The Penn Relay Carnival takes place this week. This annual event, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, comprises both the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States. Athletes from junior high school to masters level competeTrack finish line in the 30 different events.

Recently David Opar, PhD and a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine regarding injuries that occurred over a three-year period at the Penn Relays. Since I have not discussed track and field injuries often on my site, I wanted to share their findings.

The information is helpful in showing data for both musculoskeletal and medical injuries in track and field for different sexes and age groups. It could also help track and field event organizers and healthcare providers plan medical coverage for these types of competitions.

The authors of the study found that between 2002 and 2004, 48,473 athletes registered to participate in the Penn Relay Carnival. When they excluded injuries suffered by coaches, spectators and the event staff, they found a total of 436 injuries suffered by competitors over that three-year period.

Statistics on track and field injuries

Their data offers some important insight into track and field injuries at all levels:

• The most common major musculoskeletal injuries were Achilles tendon rupture, clavicle fracture, metacarpal fracture, metatarsal fracture, scapula fracture, patella dislocation, and severe ankle sprain.
• Asthma attacks and lightheadedness/severe fatigue were the two most common major medical issues.
• Female track and field competitors were overall less likely to suffer minor musculoskeletal injuries compared to male athletes.
• College track and field athletes were less likely to suffer injuries compared high school athletes. They were also less likely to suffer injuries compared to the older masters athletes.
• The 4×400-meter relay led to the most injuries of any event.

Implications for medical coverageTrack runner sad

While the rates of injuries (two major orthopaedic injuries per 10,000 participants and seven major medical injuries per 10,000 competitors) do not seem high, it still suggests that appropriate medical coverage is needed. Athletic trainers can serve as key members of the medical teams for these events. Physician and orthopaedic surgeon coverage can be beneficial as well.

Also read:
Inspect and change running shoes regularly
Stress fractures in high school athletes

With multiple events running simultaneously, it can be necessary to place athletic trainers and/or doctors close to the sites of the events with the most competitors and highest numbers of injuries. The authors found that the relay events, especially the 4 x 400 m relay, had the most injuries. It might be worthwhile for the medical staff to be present at the relay events to treat any musculoskeletal or medical injuries.

Also track and field events with masters level athletes might be appropriate competitions for which to have medical coverage, given the higher rate of injuries in this group.

What do you think of this data? Have you suffered an injury competing in track and field? Have you covered one of these events as a healthcare provider? Please share your thoughts below!

Opar D, Drezner J, Shield A, Williams M, Webner D, Sennett B, Kapur R, Cohen M, Ulager J, Cafengiu A, Cronholm PF. Acute Injuries in Track and Field Athletes: A 3-Year Observational Study at the Penn Relays Carnival With Epidemiology and Medical Coverage Implications. American Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online ahead of print January 5, 2015.