Specialists work to reduce injuries as importance of player safety rises to forefront

Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related hospital visits. (File)

Some parents face the dilemma to allow their kids to play contact sports due to the danger such activities pose.

Children ages 5 - 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related hospital visits. On average the rate and severity increases with a child's age but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.

Dr. Bradley Sloan with Jefferson City Medical group has specialized in family and sports medicine in the Capital City for 18 years. He works first-hand with athletic trainers from area high schools to diagnose and treat injured athletes. Sloan said he's known the risks of playing fast paced, contact sports both as a physician and former football player.

"It's the most exciting sport that I ever played," Sloan said. "But I also know those injuries aren't fun during the injury process and then later in life."

Injuries to the knee or shoulder can crush a player's dream to play at the college level, according to Sloan.

An injury to the spine can change an athlete's life.

Hunter Bushnell, a junior at Eldon High School, had his vertebrae snapped after a hard hit in football practice back in September. Bushnell's positive attitude shined hope on a full recovery.

While not as life-threatening as a spinal cord injury, Sloan said a knee or shoulder injury shouldn't be overlooked.

"A shoulder dislocation at an early age, your chances of having a repeat injury is at least 60 percent," said Sloan. "What is that going to do later in life? Are you going to have to have shoulder surgery? Are you going to have to deal with those types of issues later in life?"

"That's something to think about when you're deciding on what sport you're going to do."

Advances in helmet design have helped decrease the amount of concussions in football players.

A new helmet made by Riddell uses inflatable and adjustable air chambers as a way to absorb impact and better protect the brain.

Yet some mid-Missouri parents have chosen to not even take the risk of having their kid play football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Missouri high school football saw a nearly 10 percent drop in participation since 2009. This marked the first time the National Football League acknowledged the long-term impact of concussions.

"You're going to have injuries, but at the end of the day we can prevent a lot of this stuff," Sloan added.

Moving away from football doesn't mean an athlete hangs up the spikes for good.

Nationwide, outdoor track & field, cross country and soccer participation are up at least 25 percent since 2009.

"From my perspective I tell athletes to not specialize at an early age," said Sloan."I encourage them to do multiple sports, take time off, eat well, and get really good sleep."

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