August 18, 1999

Department of Community Health Releases New Guide for
Preventing Football Injuries
Parents Can Make a Difference, Experts Say


As children all across Michigan hit the fields for the beginning of football practice this month, thousands of parents worry about the possibility of football injuries. Some of the worries may be relieved by a new, free booklet released today by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The booklet, titled Head Up, Eyes Forward: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Football Injuries describes what parents can watch for and what they can do to prevent injuries. It can be ordered with a quick call to 1-800-626-INFO.

"Football injuries are a serious cause for concern," said David Johnson, M.D., Chief Medical Executive for the Michigan Department of Community Health. "Statistics from the National Athletic Trainers Association show that 39% of high school football players receive some sort of injury every year. Although most of the injuries are minor, this could translate to about 39,000 injuries among the estimated 100,000 Michigan kids who play football each year."

"The frustrating thing about sports injuries is that up to half of them could be prevented," says David Janda, M.D., Director of the Ann Arbor-based Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine and chairman of the advisory group that developed the recommendations for preventing football injuries. "If coaches, parents, trainers, and athletic directors were able to take advantage of what has been proven by research to reduce the risk of injury, literally millions of dollars in health care costs and untold suffering could be saved," said Janda.

"What happens at game time is actually the smallest part of the process of preventing football injuries," according to Mike Clark, Ph.D., at Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. "Most of the prevention takes place in the months and weeks before the opening kickoff."

Dr. Clark trains football coaches all over the state. He is often amazed at the simple, effective preventive methods that are overlooked. For example, keeping playing fields clean and smooth may seem like an aesthetic issue, but it is crucial for safety. "Holes in playing fields can cause ankle and knee injuries that will limit an athlete the rest of his life. Litter, broken glass, animal droppings - all of these can needlessly hurt children."

Conditioning is another simple preventive measure. Athletes who have built up their endurance - usually by long distance running, don’t get tired out easily during games. "When kids play tired, the risk of injury goes way up," said Ken Stringer, D.O. a pediatrician on the faculty of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and member of the injury advisory group.

The most feared of all football injuries are those to the neck and spine. To avoid these injuries, Dr. Stringer suggests parents check to make sure the children are not being taught to block with the now-banned "head into the numbers," or "spearing" technique. According to Dr. Stinger, two key ways to prevent spinal injuries are teaching athletes never to block or tackle with the top of the head, and supervising the children in neck and shoulder strengthening exercises. Dr. Stringer cautions that the neck exercises must be overseen by a trained fitness professional, because doing the exercises incorrectly can cause serious injury.

Parents sometimes feel helpless when they send their children off to football practice, but in fact, a well-informed parent can do a lot to keep a child from getting hurt. Here are some of the pointers found in Head Up, Eyes Forward: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Football Injuries.

The football recommendations included in the new parent booklet were developed by an advisory group called together by the Michigan Department of Community Health, at the request of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports. Experts from 22 statewide organizations served on the advisory group. One of the member groups, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, has been especially enthusiastic about the new booklet for parents. Susan Davidson, Blues’ Manager of Retail Communications and a committee member, is sending information about the football guide to 2,000,000 subscriber households via the Healthy Living magazine. "Preventing injuries is an important part of the health agenda for Blue Cross Blue Shield. We want to see this booklet in the hands of every football parent and coach in Michigan."