NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - High schoolers who get into the sport of pole vaulting commonly suffer injuries, with rates similar to those of contact sports, researchers have found.
While pole vaulting has traditionally gotten little attention outside the Olympics, the sport has become increasingly popular in the past several years. And the number of U.S. high school athletes in the sport is at an all-time high.
Their injury rates, however, are largely unknown.
In the new study, researchers followed 140 Wisconsin high school pole vaulters over two seasons to chart the rate and severity of injuries.
They found that the injury rate was 26 injuries per 100 athletes each season -- on par with those seen in high school wrestling and football.
Most injuries were to the lower extremities, with ligament sprains and muscle tears among the most common, the researchers report in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. There were no head or neck injuries.
While pole vaulting is inherently risky, many of the injuries seen in the study were preventable, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Gregory S. Rebella of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Many of the ankle and knee injuries, for example, occurred when the athletes landed awkwardly on the padding after clearing the crossbar.
Some of these accidents, according to Rebella's team, could potentially be prevented if coaches were to spend more time teaching proper landing technique and other skills.
In some cases -- about 18 percent -- athletes were injured when they missed the landing pad. Most of the time, this was because they failed to get over the crossbar and landed instead in the hard "plant box" in front of the bar.
The fact that none of the students suffered a head injury brings up an interesting issue, according to the researchers. Wisconsin, they note, is one of six U.S. states that requires high school vaulters to wear protective headgear -- which might help explain the lack of head trauma in all of these accidents.
Future studies should look specifically at whether helmets protect high school vaulters from head injuries, the researchers write.
SOURCE: American Journal of Sports Medicine, May 2008.