When a Sports Injury Causes Facial Trauma

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: Watching your child playing a sport they love only to see them go down with an injury. Today, more research is being done than ever to find new ways to prevent injury and protect young athletes as they engage in sports of all intensity levels.

Facial Fractures

A study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery conducted by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh found that over 10 percent of facial fractures were the result of a sports-related injury; 80 percent of those facial fractures were seen in boys between the ages of 12 and 15. 

The same study from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh also found that almost half of the facial fractures seen in youth sports occur in baseball and softball. This study was conducted by analyzing data from 167 children and teens who were seen in the emergency department over the course of five years, from 2000 to 2005. Although many may find it surprising, football and basketball only accounted for 10 percent of the facial fractures in the study.

The term facial fracture refers to broken bones just about anywhere on the face, including the nose, cheeks, jaws and area around the eyes. The goal with a facial fracture is to get the bones back into their natural position, said oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS.

“It’s vital when treating children for facial trauma to take into consideration the future growth of the face, unlike in adults, whose facial structure is fully formed,” he said. “Some facial fractures may need minimal treatment, while other may require immediate surgery. The most important part of any facial trauma in children is a continued care plan to monitor the recovery as the child grows.”

Surprising Number of Eye Injuries in Youth Sports 

A recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology and conducted by John Hopkins University and Harvard researchers discovered that approximately 30,000 sports-related eye injuries were treated each year in the emergency rooms in their database. A majority of these patients were under 18. More than 25 percent of these sports-related eye injuries occurred while playing basketball. The second most common sports for eye injuries were baseball and softball.

The injuries reported ranged from minor cuts and bruising around the eyes or on the eyelids to much more serious injuries with a higher risk of permanent damage.

The takeaway from both of these studies involving facial trauma and eye injuries is to find ways to better protect young athletes, Pollock said.

“Face protection and eyewear are not common in the sports that saw the biggest number of injuries, including basketball, baseball and softball,” he said. “Looking cool is always going to be the biggest concern for many kids, while prevention and protection remain the priority for the parents and coaches. We have to find a way to merge the two in order to decrease the number of dangerous injuries that occur each year in youth sports.”