It is widely recognised that physical activity is good for our health and wellbeing. As a result, many people take up sports as a leisure pursuit. However, there is always a risk that we could come off worse, and sustain one, or more, sporting injuries.
Contact sports such as football, rugby, and basketball are notorious for sporting injuries due to their physical nature and the highly competitive arenas in which they are played. But are you more likely to sustain a sporting injury in American football or baseball? And is a hamstring injury more common than a knee injury?
With this in mind, claims.co.uk analysed athlete injury data across various contact sports (football, rugby, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and American football) in order to determine the most common sporting injuries, and in which sports they are most likely to occur.
The most common sporting injury in this study was the knee injury, accounting for 18% of the total injuries (14,000). Over 2,500 participants injured their knee between 2018 and 2022, compared to just over 1,300 who sustained ankle injuries. The six surveyed sports all demand a degree of running, and most require you to successfully evade an opponent with quick turns. This will put more pressure on these joints, resulting in a greater chance of injury.
Almost 60% of knee injuries and 30% of ankle injuries can be attributed to American football. With players weighing up to 400lbs (180kg), this can exert huge stress and strain on the body, particularly the legs (notwithstanding the damage to an opponent, of being struck by these colossal structures at over 20mph).
In third place is the shoulder injury, with only 14 fewer recorded cases compared to ankles. This is most likely to occur in baseball (41%), due to the repeated swinging arm motion and striking of the ball.
In fourth position is the hamstring injury. This is normally caused by sudden, powerful movements, such as sprinting, lunging, or jumping—all of which are associated with these six sports. As a result, 6% of all sporting injuries can be attributed to this affliction, with the overwhelming majority associated with American football (60%).
Concluding the top five are elbow injuries, with just over 750 reported incidents across the last four years, and accounting for approximately 5% of all sporting injuries. Almost three-quarters of these come from baseball alone, representing a fifth of the sport’s total injuries.
Back and foot injuries are in sixth and seventh place respectively, with around 600 reported cases (roughly 4% of the total) for each. Baseball accounts for 40% of all back injuries, whereas American football accounts for almost 60% of all foot injuries.
Given that these are all contact sports, you might expect concussions to be higher on the list. Rugby is the biggest culprit, with 25% of all reported concussion injuries. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the amount of head-crushing and tackling that takes place in the game, plus the reported rise in national rates of concussion in elite rugby. However, since 2018 there have been just over 500 reported incidents of players knocked temporarily unconscious on the field of play, equating to just over 4% of the total injuries.
With a ferocious swing required to knock the ball out of the park, baseball is likely to cause a degree of wear and tear to your body. The most common baseball injuries are to the upper parts of the body, notably 19% to the elbow, with 16% to the shoulder. There is a 7% chance you will damage your knee, particularly as you sprint between each base to get back home for that all-important home run.
In contrast to baseball, it’s the lower half of your body that takes the brunt of football injuries. There are twice as many knocks to the knee compared to head injuries, with the former accounting for 22%. Whilst the sign of a footballer rolling around on the floor is a frustrating element of the game, those that have genuinely pulled a ‘hammy’ can relate to the agony this can cause. Almost one in five football injuries can be ascribed to hamstring-related injuries.
There are more American football injuries than any other sport in this study, with a staggering 6,325 recorded between 2018 and 2022. This might not come as a surprise, however, given the seemingly brutal nature of the sport. Similar to football, a lot of the force is taken in the lower part of the body, with almost a quarter of American football injuries to the knee and 13% to the ankle.
Unlike American football, rugby players have very little to protect them in terms of headwear. As a result, it is foreseeable that the latter would suffer a greater rate of head injuries. In fact, 21% of rugby injuries can be attributed to concussions, yet this figure is less than 5% for American football.
Knees also take their fair share of knocks, accounting for 18% of rugby injuries. On the other hand, shoulders represent almost 10%, due to the regular throwing of the ball and crunching tackles as they hit the ground.
Ice hockey is a sport that requires speed, agility and flair. As a direct-contact sport, it’s inevitable that players will collide at points in the match, but injuries also can arise from the physical demands of the sport on your body. As a result, the upper and lower body both take a pounding on match day and during practice. Both account for around 23% of injuries, making up almost half of the total amount of injuries for the sport between 2018 and 2022.
Despite the amount of throwing involved, the top three injuries in basketball are all located in the legs. Repeatedly jumping up and down, alongside the ducking and diving to avoid your opponent, will inevitably take its toll on your knees. Unsurprisingly therefore, knee afflictions are the most common injury sustained in basketball, at 21%. Twists and turns on the court can certainly account for a number of ankle and foot injuries (17% and 8% respectively).
On the face of it, American football certainly appears to be the most dangerous sport. It has almost double that of baseball in second place, which experienced just over 3,300 injuries between 2018 and 2022.
In addition to the high-impact nature of the sport, the risk of injury is further increased as there are nearly 1700 NFL registered players. This equates to 3.7 injuries per player across the four years (almost one sporting injury per player, per year). Interestingly, this brings it in line with the rate for baseball, which as well as having half the number of injuries, also has half the number of players.
By comparison, basketball experienced more than 1,500 injuries over the last four years, yet only has 500 players in the NBA. This resulted in less than one injury per player, per year.
It is worth noting that not all sports are played on a level playing field. For example, American football has a far greater number of players in the NFL, compared to the number of Premier League footballers. Therefore we would expect more injuries. Not all sports are the same length of time, played in the same conditions, or require the same movements/exertions on the body.
Therefore the only fair conclusion is to take each sport on its individual merits, and ensure the game is played as safe as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of athletes sustaining an injury.
Joe Dale, sports expert and founder of VPS Medicine, offered guidance on how to minimise the risk of sports injuries, as outdoor activities kick into high gear during summer:
*Where some data is crowdsourced by fans, please take note that figures may not be 100% accurate.
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