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Reducing Sports Injuries

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2001 – Sports are a big part of the military culture, but service members have to be more careful when they play.

Sports and recreation participation are major causes of injuries in the armed forces, said Diana Settles, program manager for injury prevention and physical fitness for the Navy.

"DoD spends $600 million to $750 million per year to treat musculoskeletal injuries," said Settles, who also works on the DoD Injury Occupational Illness Prevention Committee. While this statistic covers all musculoskeletal disabilities, a significant number are due to sports accidents, she said.

Settles said DoD is trying to get a better handle on the scope of the problem, but that's been hard because many sports injuries occur during off-duty hours.

The effects of these injuries are far-reaching. There is, of course, the pain service members suffer. But also, injuries affect the mission.

"During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Army reported its medical evacuations and hospitalizations were primarily sports and recreational activities," Settles said. These injured soldiers were unavailable for duty when the war started. Other soldiers had to take their places or their fellow soldiers had to do the job with fewer personnel.

The Air Force reports that basketball is the cause of most sports injuries. It is followed by softball, flag football, snow skiing and cycling.

Basketball provides a good example of what service members can use to avoid injuries, Settles said. "Basketball is very popular and service members play the sport year- round," she said. "Pick-up games are common and they are played indoors and outdoors." Pick-up games commonly do not have referees.

Settles said service members must consider internal and external "risk factors" when approaching recreation and sports activities. Internal factors include the shape the players are in and their physical anatomies.

Using basketball as an example, it is an aerobic sport involving a lot of running. There's a level of fitness people should meet before playing the game, Settles said. The sport requires a lot of lateral movement. Players should warm-up and stretch for five to 10 minutes before taking the court. She said local morale, welfare and recreation specialists can advise service members what types of stretching are best for various sports.

Ignoring external factors can also cause accidents. In the case of basketball, such factors include the condition of the court and the proper use of players' equipment. Don't just pick up a basketball and start playing. Check out both indoor and outdoor courts to ensure they are dry and do not contain sharp or foreign objects. They should be properly lit. Make sure there is enough room behind the hoop so players don't run into a wall or go up on a curb. Wear the correct shoes when playing hoops.

"Many times people are playing basketball in running shoes," Settles said. "There is little lateral ankle support in running shoes -- which predisposes the athlete to an ankle injury."

Sprains and knee injuries are the likely injuries that result from playing basketball. Every sport has internal and external risk factors, and service members who are aware of them can cut down on injuries.

DoD is trying to reach service members through their coaches, units and specialists in the recreation centers. "The service man or woman needs to understand th3e internal and external risks associated with their sports," Settles said. "This could be relayed to them via coaching staff, the MWR personnel, personal training personnel or the officials. I think the 'train the trainer' is important, but the individual service man or woman has to take control and understand what the risks are with their sports and work to minimize them."

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