Researchers examined data from basketball players aged 13 to 19 who were treated in hospital emergency departments between 2005 and 2010 and those who were treated by high school athletic trainers. There were about 1.5 million in the first group and about 1 million in the second group.
In general, more easily diagnosed and treated injuries such as sprains and strains were treated by athletic trainers. More serious injuries such as fractures were treated in an emergency department, according to the study published online April 23 in the Journal of Athletic Training.
The findings show the importance of athletic trainers and the need to make them available to more high school athletes, the researchers said.
"Athletic trainers play a really important role in helping to assess those more mild or moderate injuries, and that helps alleviate a burden on the health care system and on families," lead author Lara McKenzie, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said in a hospital news release.
"They are right there on the sidelines. They are there when some of these things happen. And they can be a great resource for families to evaluate that injury immediately," she explained.
The American Medical Association recommended in 1998 that all high school sports programs have an athletic medicine team that includes a physician director and athletic trainer, the news release noted. As of 2009, only 42 percent of high school sports teams had met this recommendation, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
"We are there to prevent injuries, evaluate them quickly, treat them immediately and try our best to make sure that as we return them to play we do it in the most safe and efficient way possible," Kerry Waple, a certified athletic trainer in sports medicine at Nationwide Children's, said in the news release.
"There are a lot of injuries that happen that are winding up in urgent cares [centers] and emergency departments that don't need to be there," Waple added.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about high school sports injuries.