Sports injuries to high school athletes with disabilities

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Marizen Ramirez; Jingzhen Yang; Linda Bourque; John Javien; Saman Kashani; Mary Ann Limbos; Corinne Peek-Asa.



Physical activity in sports comes with an inherent risk for injury. For children with disabilities, their injury risk may be complicated by preexisting disability. However, very little research exists on sports injuries to young athletes with disabilities. To best manage potential injuries to children with disabilities, data on sports injury patterns are needed. The purpose of this study was to measure the frequency of and risk factors for injury to high school athletes with disabilities.


A total of 210 athletes from 8 special education high schools that are part of an interscholastic sports league participated in the study. Seven of the 8 schools were followed for 1 season each of basketball, softball, soccer, and field hockey, and 1 school enrolled only during field hockey. Data were collected from coaches on daily exposure sessions (game, practice, and conditioning, as well as length of session), athlete characteristics (disability, gender, age, seizure history, and behavioral problems), and nature of injuries resulting in any type of medical treatment.


Thirty-eight injuries were reported among 512 special athletes for a rate of 2.0 per 1000 athlete exposures. Soccer (3.7 per 1000) had the highest rate of injury. More than half of the injuries were abrasions and contusions. Those at highest risk for injury were athletes with autism, athletes with histories of seizures, and starters. Athletes with autism had approximately 5 times the injury rate of athletes with mental disabilities. Athletes with seizures had >2.5 times the rate of injury reported among those with no seizure history.


This adapted sports program is a reasonably safe activity for children with disabilities. Nonetheless, findings have important implications for prevention. The preparticipation medical examination may be an excellent opportunity to create special guidelines, particularly for athletes with autism and seizure history.


Ramirez M, Yang J, Bourque L, et al. Sports injuries to high school athletes with disabilities. Pediatrics. 2009;123(2):690-696. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0603

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