Following the return to spring sports schedules for many across the United States, it’s inevitable that we’re going to see a spike in sports-related injuries nationally. So, as Americans around the country take to basketball courts, football pitches and baseball fields, we wanted to make sure people are aware of the potential dangers associated with playing each of America’s favourite sports – and what they can do to protect themselves against the most common sports injuries. 

Our team of experts have tracked injuries relating to ER visits over the last five years, across seven of the most popular sports in America, and have found that American Football is the number one most dangerous sport in the United States.

We found that for every 100,000 players, 813 injuries had been sustained while playing American football since 2017, making it the most likely sport to send you to the emergency room. In comparison, ice hockey and soccer resulted in 585 and 260 injuries per 100k participants since 2017.

To create our ranking of the most dangerous sports, we analyzed five years worth of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)*, which tracks ER visits across the entirety of the United States.

We also looked at TV viewership numbers for major tournaments across all of the sports included in our list and found that American football is the most popular sport in the US, with 114.4m viewers annually**. 

However, despite its popularity from a broadcasting perspective, we actually found that more people play basketball than American football. Despite basketball having less than half of the national viewership, there were a total of 57k injuries sustained on basketball courts in the last five years, compared to the 41,967 injuries related to American Football. 

When these numbers are adjusted to incorporate the number of people playing each sport, American football was ultimately named the most dangerous, per 100,000 players.

In contrast, our research found that Tennis is the safest sport in the country, with as little as 10 injuries per 100,000 players.

The top five most dangerous sports in America, and the number of injuries sustained per 100,000 players since 2017, are:

  1. American Football – 813
  2. Ice Hockey – 585
  3. Soccer – 260
  4. Basketball – 239
  5. Baseball – 79
  6. Golf – 14
  7. Tennis – 10

As part of the study, our sports injury team also reviewed Google Trends data from the last 12 months to find out when Americans are typically most worried about injuries sustained while playing sports. 

April 2022 saw the highest peak in searches for ‘common sports injuries’ since the same period last year, with a Google Trends ranking of 100. The next closest month was in September of last year, where searches reached a high of 97.

Sports injury settlements

To shine a light on the amount of money people could potentially claim if they were to be injured while playing each of the most dangerous sports, our team of lawyers have revealed the settlement ranges people might expect to see when dealing with the most common injuries:

Sports: American football, ice hockey, baseball, golf, tennis

Most common injury: Head trauma

Settlement range: $20k – $200k (depending on severity)

Sports: Soccer, basketball

Most common injury: Ankle sprains and fractures

Settlement range: $10k-$50k (depending on severity)

Treating a sports-related injury

If you’re worried about playing any of these sports, we’ve also collated a short guide to help people dealing with any of the above injuries – with tips from medical advice platforms including Johns Hopkins Medicine, UCSF Health and the NHS in Britain.

For diagnosing and caring for common head injuries, John Hopkins Medicine states:

‘Concussion: A concussion is an injury to the head area that may cause instant loss of awareness or alertness for a few minutes up to a few hours after the traumatic event.

‘Skull fracture: A skull fracture is a break in the skull bone. There are four major types of skull fractures, including the following:

‘Linear skull fractures: This is the most common type of skull fracture. In a linear fracture, there is a break in the bone, but it does not move the bone. These patients may be observed in the hospital for a brief amount of time, and can usually resume normal activities in a few days. Usually, no interventions are necessary.

‘Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may include:

  • Ice
  • Rest
  • Topical antibiotic ointment and adhesive bandage
  • Observation
  • Immediate medical attention
  • Stitches
  • Hospitalization for observation
  • Moderate sedation or assistance with breathing that would require being placed on a breathing machine, mechanical ventilator or respirator
  • Surgery

Looking at types of symptoms, and when to go to the ER, or call an ambulance, the NHS in Britain advises:

Go to the ER if: ‘You or your child have had a head injury and have:

  • Been knocked out but have now woken up
  • Vomited (been sick) since the injury
  • A headache that does not go away with painkillers
  • A change in behaviour, like being more irritable or losing interest in things around you (especially in children under 5)
  • Been crying more than usual (especially in babies and young children)
  • Problems with memory
  • Been drinking alcohol or taking drugs just before the injury
  • A blood clotting disorder (like haemophilia) or you take medicine to thin your blood
  • Had brain surgery in the past

‘You or your child could have a concussion. Symptoms usually start within 24 hours, but sometimes may not appear for up to 3 weeks.

Call an ambulance if: ‘Someone has hit their head and has:

  • Been knocked out and has not woken up
  • Difficulty staying awake or keeping their eyes open
  • A fit (seizure)
  • Fallen from a height of more than 1 metre or 5 stairs
  • Problems with their vision or hearing
  • A black eye without direct injury to the eye
  • Clear fluid coming from their ears or nose
  • Bleeding from their ears or bruising behind their ears
  • Numbness or weakness in part of their body
  • Problems with walking, balance, understanding, speaking or writing
  • Hit their head at speed, such as in a car crash, being hit by a car or bike or a diving accident
  • A head wound with something inside it or a dent to the head

Looking at ankle injuries, UCSF Health states:

Step 1: RICE

‘Follow the instructions represented by the acronym RICE as often as possible for three days. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression (with an elastic ankle wrap) and elevation (toes above the nose). For significantly swollen ankles or if limping persists for more than three days, you should see a doctor.

Step 2: Rehabilitation:

‘To prevent permanent damage to the ankle, take steps to achieve better range of motion (flexibility), balance and strength. Many of these exercises can be done at home.

‘Range of motion exercise – Place one foot on a stairway step. Allow the back heel to stretch downward over the edge of the step. Hold each foot in this position for 30 seconds.

‘Balance restoration exercise – Stand on one leg with your eyes closed. Gradually build up to standing 30 seconds on each leg. Repeat three times.

‘Strength exercise – Lie on your side on the sofa, with the upper leg hanging over the edge. Place the top of your foot through the handles of a plastic shopping bag filled with one to two pounds of weight (one or two cans of soup). Slowly lift your toes toward the ceiling and hold for three seconds. Repeat 10 times.

Step 3: Supportive devices:

‘When back to playing sports, previously injured athletes should probably wear an ankle brace, no matter how much they have rehabilitated their ankle or how good their sneakers. An injured ankle will never have the same support again, so a brace should be considered.

Step 4: If pain continues:

‘For ankle pain and significant instability that persists despite adequate rehabilitation or physical therapy, you should see a doctor for further evaluation. You may have injured the cartilage or tendons in your ankle, which may require special testing.’

Andy Gillin, Managing Partner of GJEL, said:

“With spring sports now fully underway, and summer not too far around the corner, we wanted to raise awareness of the common ailments and injuries associated with playing some of America’s most popular sports – and how much you could be owed if they occur to you.

“I think we can all understand why football is sitting at the top of the list, however, I was surprised by the final ranking of the list. It’s also interesting when you look at the more common injuries people sustain, particularly in sports with traditionally less contact, such as basketball.

“Our hope is that people take care when playing sports, whatever it may be, and if our study helps at least one person, it will be worth it!”




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Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.