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Understanding injuries
in high school athletes:Study establishes baseline for further research, recommendations

Research at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences is helping to shed light on injury cause and prevention in high school athletes. The hope is that this research, which is ongoing, will help athletes, parents, athletic trainers and administrators better understand injuries in the future.

According to Jennifer McKeon, Ph.D., certified athletic trainer (ATC) and primary investigator on the project, the majority of current research in this area involves college athletes, yet many more students participate in high school sports than college.

"There are approximately 18 times more high school kids playing sports than in college and many receive their first sports injury as teenagers," McKeon said. "This research will provide insight into several different aspects of the types of sports injuries that happen to adolescents, as well as help high school athletes and athletic trainers better estimate the recovery time after an injury has occurred. We also hope to better understand the long term consequences of sports injuries that happen during adolescence."

Ashley Reed, ATC and recent graduate student working with McKeon, said that there are more than 7.4 million athletes that participate nationwide in high school sports. Reed and McKeon's research was conducted in cooperation with Fayette County Public Schools and focused on athletes in seven high schools in Fayette and Madison counties. With the assistance of the University of Kentucky Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine athletic trainers, injury surveillance and data collection was conducted throughout 2008.

"By having actual data, we can begin to back up several athletic training practices that we've already expected to be beneficial, but it also allows us to make new recommendations for these student athletes," said McKeon.

The importance of the study lies in the fact that high school-level sports participants are an understudied group of athletes and their injuries are not yet fully understood, said McKeon. By working in coordination with athletic trainers in Central Kentucky, baseline testing can be established that will eventually shed more light on prevention and intervention of athletic injuries.

McKeon also said the current research is important to the targeted population because it also reemphasizes the fact that the number one risk of injury is a previous similar injury. Basically, that means that once an athlete has sprained their ankle or torn ligaments in their knee, it is much easier to suffer the same injury in the future. By monitoring athletes and their injuries, McKeon hopes to shed light on best treatment processes that increase the athlete's chance at a full recovery without a repeat injury.

    When playing a high school sport High school athletes and their parents should remember the basic guidelines outlined below when participating in any sport, said McKeon:
  • See your school's athletic trainer if you sustain an injury.
  • If you see a physician for an injury, report the diagnosis to your school's athletic trainer.
  • An athletic trainer can help determine when returning to play is safe, as well as what to expect when you resume athletic activity.
  • An athletic trainer, along with your physician, can help you determine further course of action to prevent or treat future injuries.


Researchers and contributors to McKeon's research include Reed, Erin Hagdorn, ATC, a current athletic training master's student, Tim Uhl, Ph.D., ATC, Rob Ullery, ATC and the staff athletic trainers at UK Sports Medicine.


To find out more about this study, call Jennifer McKeon, Ph.D. at 859-218-0594 or by e-mail at

For more information about the Athletic Training program, visit

Photo: Jennifer McKeon, Ph.D., ATC

Jennifer McKeon, Ph.D., ATC
Faculty, Athletic Training

View McKeon's Faculty Page

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