Over half of the nation's high schools currently lack access to an athletic trainer during practice or competition for team sports. In spite of the American Medical Association’s recommendation in 1998 that all high schools enlist the medical expertise of a physician director and an athletic trainer, only 42 percent of high schools in the U.S. had an onsite athletic trainer as of 2009. A recent study conducted at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital has estimated over 2.5 million basketball-related injuries occurred in a high school setting between 2005 and 2011.

"Athletic trainers play a really important role in helping to assess those more mild or moderate injuries and that helps alleviate a burden on the health care system and on families," lead researcher with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's, Dr. Lara McKenzie, said in a statement. "They are right there on the sidelines. They are there when some of these things happen. And they can be a great resource for families to evaluate that injury immediately."

McKenzie and her colleagues used the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission operated National Electronic Surveillance System (NEISS) and the High School Reporting Information Online database to obtain the data required for the study. The research team focused on data pertaining to students between the ages of 13 and 19 who were admitted to a hospital’s emergency department from 2005 to 2010. The data also included athletes who were treated by a high trainer for a basketball related injury between the 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 academic years.

It is estimated that one million high school students in the U.S. compete for their school basketball team each year. Throughout the years covered in this study, 1,514,957 students who suffered a basketball-related injury were treated in a hospital’s emergency department and 1,064,551 were treated by an athletic trainer. Injuries that are easy to diagnose and treat, including sprains and strains, were more likely to be treated by an athletic trainer. More serious injuries such as fractures required treatment from a hospital’s emergency department.

"We are there to prevent injuries, evaluate them quickly, treat them immediately and try our best to make sure that as we return them to play we do it in the most safe and efficient way possible," explained Kerry Waple, ATC, certified athletic trainer in Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children's. "There are a lot of injuries that happen that are winding up in urgent cares and emergency departments that don't need to be there."

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the fast-paced nature in which basketball is played can leave athletes susceptible to various injuries. The most common types of injury experienced by basketball players include ankle sprains, foot and lower leg stress fractures, torn knee ligaments, and jammed fingers. To reduce an athlete’s risk of suffering either an overuse or traumatic injury, players should maintain year-round fitness, warm up and stretch before physical activity, and make sure the body is hydrated before competing in any sport.

Source: Fletcher E, Comstock D, McKenzie L. Epidemiologic Comparison of Injured High School Basketball Athletes Reporting to Emergency Departments and the Athletic Training Setting. Journal of Athletic Training. 2014.