Top 5 Most Dangerous Sports

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You might associate danger with extreme sports, such as skydiving and rock climbing. But the nature of these sports results in relatively few participants. The most dangerous sports tend to be played by large numbers of people at all skill levels—proving that a sport isn’t really dangerous if you never play it. By examining statistics about sports enthusiasts and emergency room visits by athletes, a more focused picture of the most “dangerous” sports emerges.

5 Baseball and Softball

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Baseball is “America’s pastime,” and about 28 million Americans played baseball or softball in 2008. Players may not run as much as soccer players or fight like hockey players—but they swing bats at small, hard balls thrown at them at remarkable speed. Repetitive arm use—particularly overhead—places great strain on elbows and shoulders and frequently leads to injury. This does much to explain why nearly 300,000 baseball and softball players—an even 1 percent—end up passing their time in America’s emergency rooms.

4 Soccer

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As with basketball, a lot of soccer’s danger derives from the fact that players wear very little protective gear while playing. Shin guards can only do so much when most of the game consists of running and falling down dramatically. Add to that the fact that soccer’s the only sport where players intentionally pass and shoot the ball with their heads. Of 2008’s 15 million participants, nearly 200,000—or 1.3 percent— required emergency room treatment for a soccer-related injury. As you might expect with a sport heavily focused on running and kicking, leg muscles and joints carry the greatest risk of injury. Foot fractures are also common.

3 Basketball

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Part of the danger of basketball comes from the lack of safety equipment. Unlike football or ice hockey players, basketball team members don’t wear helmets and pads – and they fall down a lot. Nearly half a million people showed up in the emergency room with basketball-related injuries in 2008. Given that around 30 million people play the sport, that’s only a 1.6 percent rate of injury—but it’s enough to make it the third most dangerous sport. Sprains and strains result from the frequent starts and stops, and short bursts of speed the game’s pace requires. In addition to finger and wrist sprains, basketball players also have frequent knee injuries.

2 Ice Hockey

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While far fewer Americans play ice hockey than football—an estimated 2 million in 2008 – the hard-hitting contact sport still lands around 3 percent of participants in the emergency room. As with football, hockey players risk concussions and other head injuries. You also risk serious injury to your knees or shoulders. Despite all of the padding and gear, getting checked against the boards or colliding with the goal still hurts.

1 Football

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About 10 million people of all ages played tackle football in 2008—and nearly half a million of them, or 5 percent, ended up in the emergency room, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of course, this statistic doesn’t account for unreported injuries or repetitive injuries that don’t cause problems until later on. It also doesn’t include indirect injuries, such as heat exhaustion, a risk you assume when you run around outside in early fall heat weighted down with pads and gear that only do so much to protect you. Because of the full-on contact nature of the sport, football players run a serious risk of concussion. Leg muscle strains, knee injuries and shoulder dislocations are also common.

Jennifer Mueller has been writing professionally since 1995, when she began writing a bi-monthly column for "This Week in WNC." Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law.

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