Dr. James Andrews concerned about youth sports injury “epidemic”

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NEW ORLEANS – Dr. James Andrews, the country’s most recognized orthopedic surgeon, said Friday that injuries in youth sports have reached “epidemic” proportions.

During a break during the First Annual Andrews Lectureship at Tulane University, a series honoring his legacy in sports medicine, Andrews said, “Our research indicates that there has been a five to seven, and in some cases, ten-fold increase in injuries in youth sports. That’s an epidemic of injuries in kids sports.”

Youth Sports Injury Statistics

The two-day event is being held at the Lavin-Bernick Center on Tulane’s uptown campus. Andrews completed his residency at Tulane’s School of Medicine and says, “Tulane gave me the opportunity (in sports medicine) and I’ve always wanted to give back to Tulane because of what they’ve done for me.”

Friday’s program included presentations from Andrews, Dr. Felix Savoie, Chairman, Tulane Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Tulane Insititute of Sports Medicine , Dr. W. Ben Kibler, Medical Tirector of Lexington (KY) Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and Shoulder Center of Kentucky, and Andre Labbe, PT, lead therapist at Big Easy Sportsplex.

Saturday’s schedule begins with 8:30 a.m. registration and focuses on youth arm care and baseball pitching mechanics.

Andrews is world-renowned, but locally revered for his successful reconstruction of the shoulder of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In his distinguished career, Andrews has received many honors including induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award recipient in 2008.

Andrews, Savoie, and Kibler emphasized the importance of educating youth coaches and parents about the risks of improper training, sport specialization and “professionalism” in youth programs.

“Fewer than half of the (youth) coaches say they have received certification,” Andrews said. “Until you mandate certification of youth coaches you are not going to be able to control youth injuries.”

Yet, parents want coaches certified. Studies show that 80% of parents believe youth coaches should require testing and certification, according to Andrews.

During his presentation, Andrews pointed out:

— “There are 30-45 million youth athletes in the U.S (Adirm & Chen, 2003)
— “Statistics show that sports is the leading cause of adolescent injury (CDC 2002)
— “Young athletes are specializing in sports (and positions) at an earlier age, with more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 treated annually for sports injuries. (Source: Safe Kids USA)
— “In addition public and parent education is lacking – I.E. parents markedly underestimate their child’s risk!
— “This becomes a major health reform issue!!! (his emphasis).

“It’s occurring in epidemic proportions because it’s too much, too fast, too soon for these kids,” Andrews said.

Andrews told the large audience that he “couldn’t count” the number of times a mother would come to his office and start the visit by saying “I didn’t know my daughter could get hurt playing soccer.”

In fact, Andrews said cheerleaders are among the most likely athletes to suffer serious injury.

Youth Cheerleading Injuries

“For catastrophic injuries, cheerleaders lead the stats,” he said. “Over the 26 years from 1982 to 2008, they show disabilities caused by head or spine trauma are almost double for high school cheerleaders than for all other female sports combined,” he said. “There were 73 catastrophic injuries including two deaths during this period.”

Andrews, who also serves on the Tulane Medical School Board and is a Clincial Professor for Tulane, was born in New Orleans at Touro Hospital.

“That was back in the middle of World War II,” he explained. “My father was down here fixin’ to be shipped over seas. I was raised up in north Louisiana. My dad was overseas for two, three years and I lived on my grandfather’s farm with my mother and sister . . . near Homer.”

A pole vaulter, Andrews received a scholarship to LSU where he completed his under grad program before being accepted into LSU Medical School in New Orleans.

It was his residency at Tulane with Dr. Jack Wickstrom that launched his career.

Wickstrom arranged for Andrews to complete his third year of residency with Dr. Jack Hughston of Columbus, GA.

Hughston was the foremost authority in the Southeast on athletic orthopedics. “The first guy who started covering high school football games with doctors,” Andrews said.

“Somehow, someway, I knew about him and I wanted to study with him. So I went and visited with him during the second year of my residency at Tulane. He was the sports medicine guru, team physician guru, in all of this part of the country

“I called and asked if I could come visit,” recalled Andrews. “(Hughston) covered high school games Friday and operated on high school players Saturday morning. Then he also went to Auburn games Saturday.

“On Sunday I’d drive back to Tulane.

“As it turned out Hughston and Dr. Wickstrom were big friends. Dr. Hughston, with my energy to seek him out, called Dr. Wickstrom up and asked if I could do part of my training with him. So, Dr. Wickstrom sent me over there for the entire third year of my residency.

“If it hadn’t been for Dr. Jack Wickstrom and Tulane Orthopedics,” says Andrews, “I probably wouldn’t have been able to get the training I did in sports medicine.”

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Will Peneguy

Will Peneguy

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Will Peneguy is a former reporter, columnist and Assistant Sports Editor at The Times-Picayune as well as the former Assistant General Manager of the Louisiana Superdome. He has won the prestigious Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sports Writers and Sportscasters Association and 27 other major writing awards. He has been a University instructor for more than 40 years. Today, Peneguy serves as chairman of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Media Selection Committee and previously served as a senior athletic administrator and as Associate Vice Chancellor at the University of New Orleans. He also contributes as a writer…

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