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Avoidance of Concussions May be Behind Rise in Abdominal Injuries

7 Oct, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Three High School Football Deaths in September Raise Awareness of Risks of Midsection and Core Injuries

Are abdominal injuries the new concussions? Some sports medicine professionals are saying they are. Like concussions, their symptoms might not be readily apparent. And like concussions, delays in treatment can cause irreparable harm.

Last week, Evan Murray, a 17-year-old student at Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, died after collapsing on the sidelines. The cause of death was a massive internal bleeding from a lacerated spleen. Murray’s death brings the total number of deaths of high school football players from internal injuries to three in September alone, including Tyrell Cameron, a 16-year-old student at Franklin Parish High School in Louisiana, and Ben Hamm, a 16-year-old student at Wesleyan Christian School in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Ironically, some are speculating that the effort to avoid concussions may be behind the rise in abdominal injuries.

“I believe the issue is here, looking at the way tackling is going,” retired NFL kicker Matt Stover told USA Today. “The types of tackles are getting lower, in avoiding hits to the players’ head, players are dropping down. It’s less at the shoulders now. “Though not common, there have always been injuries to spleen or bruised kidneys. When I was playing, I remember a hit Ray Lewis took to the back, which was a compartmentalized injury.”

Data compiled by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina found that 13 high school American football players have died from internal injuries between 2012 and 2014. But problems stretch back further than that. In 2008, a high school sophomore in Niceville, Florida died after taking a hit on the field that ruptured his liver.

Awareness of the dangers of internal injuries in football is spreading through professional athletes, as well. Running backs and wide receivers in college and the NFL are increasingly equipping themselves like quarterbacks with rib protectors, back plates and other equipment designed to absorb hits from defenders, according to USA Today.

“(College and NFL players) are loading up on every kind of protection with good reason,” Terry O’Neill, a former NFL executive who founded Practice Like Pros, a program that brings coaching techniques used in college and the NFL to high schools, told USA Today. “What defensive coaches in the NFL call the ‘strike zone’ or the ‘hit zone’ has been reduced. It’s like a baseball strike zone from the shoulders to the knees. There’s a lot more contact in that area and offensive players are trying to protect themselves more and more.”

Some say this equipment needs to find its way into youth sports. Nike, Under Armour, EliteTek, Rawlings and EvoShield all produce body padding that uses cloth, high-tech liquid or material similar to Kevlar to protect players’ internal organs. In addition, coaches, trainers and parents should be educated to look for signs of potential injury in young players. Ruptured spleens, livers and other internal organs often present with no symptoms until the athlete collapses from blood loss. Doctors say that in the hours following a hard hit in a game, parents and student athletes should pay attention to increasing pain, dizziness and nausea, and seek treatment immediately.

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