Is lacrosse the most dangerous sport? The short answer is probably not. But, it is definitely one of the sports with a higher incident of injury compared to others.
My personal experience as a player is that I was pretty much injury-free my whole career. Granted, I played goalie, but broken thumbs and fingers aren’t all that foreign to the position. Compare that with other teammates I had that would have a knee injury or a dislocated shoulder every other weekend, and it left me curious. Just how dangerous is lacrosse? And how does that compare to the injury rates in other sports?
The best — and most recent — data I could find on the topic was a study published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website titled, “College Sports–Related Injuries — United States, 2009–10 Through 2013–14 Academic Years.” Academic publications certainly know how to write quality headlines.
I put all of the data in a sortable table, which you can explore below. You can sort the table by column as well as apply filters to the whole table.
Is Lacrosse The Most Dangerous Sport?
Glossary and Data
First, here are some helpful terms to know to understand the reporting:
Athlete-Exposure: The number of times an athlete participated in a particular event, whether it be a practice or competition.
Estimated Injury Rate Per 1,000 Athlete-Exposures (IR): Basically, it is the number of injuries divided by the number of athlete exposures. This is simply the rate at which athletes are injured in a sport per 1,000 times an athlete appeared in a certain event type, like a practice or game. Simply put, this calculates the rate of the number of injuries sustained compared to the number of times an athlete participates in a game or practice, or in other words a setting that would present an opportunity for injury. This measurement does not determine the actual risk of playing a sport.
Incidence Proportion (IP): This is how smart people like the people that do these studies measure the actual risk involved in playing a given sport. The way this is calculated is by taking the number of injured athletes divided by the total number of athletes at risk during a specified time period. It is a measurement of the average probability across all athletes that an athlete will be injured during a specific timeframe, typically a season. This measurement takes into consideration multiple injuries to the same athlete during a specified time (such as a complete season) and the amount of risk for that to happen. You can compare this measurement between sports to compare the actual risk of playing each sport. The reason this analytic tool is used is because it does not take into consideration the difference in the number of games played or practices attended, but instead will tell you the risk at which you will sustain at least one injury during a given season. However, I wasn’t able to find any data for the actual number of injured athletes during the time period of the study. So, while this information would obviously have been valuable to determine exactly which sport is the most risky to play, what we can say by simply using the injury rate is that more injuries occur per event in one sport compared to another. That should still give us a good idea on just how dangerous a sport is.
If, for some reason, you want to read more about the methodology and terms, click here to visit Journal of Athletic Training.
Now that the boring technical stuff is out of the way, let’s take a look at the numbers:
Now, that we have the data, we can answer the question of “is lacrosse is the most dangerous sport?” As you can see from the table, men’s wrestling actually has the highest average of injuries per athlete performance. Makes sense for a sport where the whole purpose is to basically outmuscle the other guy. Women’s gymnastics has the second-highest rate of injuries per event, which also makes sense considering that these athletes are doing some incredibly dangerous and technical maneuvers at high speeds and on dangerous equipment. Men’s ice hockey has the next most amount of injuries per event, which is also not surprising given hockey’s reputation as a rough sport. Football, which many people probably figured would be one of the roughest sports, comes in fourth in terms of people getting injured per event.
Men’s and women’s lacrosse come in the 10th and 11th places, respectively.
However, it should be noted that not all injuries are created equal. Some sports — mainly the contact ones — are magnets for more serious injuries like concussions, broken bones, and knee injuries like ACL tears.
Check out this study published in the Journal of Athletic Training to get a sense for the number of serious injuries that happen per sport. It also breaks down what location on the body those serious injuries happened, as well as whether they happened before, during or after the season as well as in competition or practice. The reason why I didn’t add the data to the table is because the percentages of how of the total injuries per sport were serious didn’t add up to the number of injuries from the study on the CDC’s website, so I left it out. Taking a look at the serious injury study should still give you a pretty good idea as to what sport you are most likely to get seriously injured in.
It’s interesting to note that most sports have a higher incidence of serious injury during the post season. That’s to be expected, because typically your body is breaking down after a long season of athletic performance.
The sport that you are most likely to sustain a serious injury in is women’s gymnastics, followed by women’s outdoor track and field. For some reason, women participating in indoor track and field seem to sustain serious injuries 5% less than women who participate in outdoor track and field. Men’s wrestling comes in third and is the top men’s sport for the percentage of total injuries in the sport that are considered serious.
Men’s lacrosse actually ranks higher than both hockey and football in terms of serious injuries that occur in the sport, but are behind men’s tennis. Men’s lacrosse is actually the third-ranked sport among men’s sports for sustaining a serious injury. Roughly 17.1 percent of the serious injuries in men’s lacrosse are ACL tears, while 5.2 percent are concussions. That is compared with 14 percent of serious injuries being ACL tears and 11.1 percent of serious injuries being concussions in football. Roughly 8.1 percent of injuries in women’s lacrosse are serious, putting them in the middle of the pack of other sports.
Now remember, this data was taken from college athletics, and doesn’t take into consideration youth injury statistics. That’s another article for another time.
So, is lacrosse the most dangerous sport?
Well, if you are basing your criteria on injuries, the answer is no. That’s not to say that it’s not a rough sport, because all of us who have played can attest to that. However, based on the injury data it seems as though men’s wrestling and women’s gymnastics are each the most dangerous sports for men and women, respectively.