– Innovations by NCCSIR to Keep Sports Safe

We are proud to serve as the host department for the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR).  Under the direction of Dr. Kristen Kucera (Director, NCCSIR)  and Leah Cox (Research Associate, NCCSIR) the NCCSIR injury surveillance system has underwent major changes the past 1.5 years in an effort to continually improve the center’s ability to collect data that serves as a foundation for keeping sports safe across all levels of play.  Many thanks to both Kristen and Leah for providing this week’s EXSS Impact Post content that highlights the important work being done through the NCCSIR.

nccsirParticipation in organized sports is at an all-time high in the United States with over 8 million high school-level participants and roughly 500,000 college, university, and junior college level participants. The benefits of participation in sports go above just the physical impacts of improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance, and encompass the psychological and social impacts as well. These benefits do not come without some risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over 2.6 million emergency department visits per year are due to youth sports injuries. As sport participation numbers increase, it is more important than ever to ensure safe participation for all engaging in those sports. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR) strives to do just that. The mission of the NCCSIR is to conduct surveillance of catastrophic injuries and illnesses related to participation in organized sports in the United States at the collegiate, high school, and youth levels of play.

1) What is surveillance and why do we do it?

Dr. David Satcher, US Surgeon General from 1998-2002, noted that public health begins with surveillance. “Public health surveillance is defined as the routine, ongoing collection, analysis and dissemination of data to those responsible for preventing and controlling disease and injury.” [1, 2] NCCSIR has been conducting catastrophic injury and illness surveillance for all collegiate and high school sponsored sports since 1982 and for football at all levels of play since 1968.

Catastrophic sports injuries and illnesses are defined as severe conditions that result in death, permanent or temporary disability as well as events that would have resulted in death without immediate medical action such as sudden cardiac arrest. The most common types of catastrophic events include traumatic head and neck injuries, heat stroke, and sudden cardiac arrest. The need for information about how to prevent these serious events is high.

2) What we are doing: Improving surveillance of catastrophic sports injuries

The NCCSIR is a primary source for published and unpublished catastrophic sport injury information. The NCCSIR has historically obtained information largely from publicly available news media reports and national and state sport organizations like the National Federation of State High School Associations. NCCSIR gathers any available information about the event including the sport played, activity at time of event, type and severity of the injury, and the outcome. NCCSIR summarizes this information in annual reports submitted to national organizations and individuals charged with ensuring the safety of sports for the participants. Safety and sports medicine advisory committees review this information annually to recommend changes in rules, equipment, coaching and training techniques, and medical care, and to assess whether past recommendations resulted in fewer and/or less severe catastrophic events.

Figure 1 NCCSIR surveillance methodsIn order to understand how to prevent these events in the future, it is critical that we know how many and how often catastrophic events occur. Reliance on news media reports means that only the events that reach the media are captured. For some catastrophic sport-related events this method may provide an adequate picture, but for other events which do not receive media attention, we may only get the “tip of the iceberg.” Therefore, in order to be most effective, surveillance systems should strive to actively capture the health outcomes as they occur.

Moving towards a more active and comprehensive surveillance model, NCCSIR and the Consortium for Catastrophic Injury Monitoring in Sport have developed a national centralized reporting site where anyone can report a catastrophic sport injury or illness: Anyone – parents, athletes, athletic trainers, coaches, school administrators and others – can report the event and basic information about what happened at NCCSIR and the consortium review these initial reports and then follow up with the individuals in order to collect more detailed information about the injury or illness including equipment worn, environmental conditions, emergency and medical care provided, and longer term outcomes.

Figure 2 sportinjuryreport.orgEXSS is “EXercising Science Solutions” to improve the health of people and their communities. Determining which problems need solving is the first step to making an impact on public health. is a major step towards improving the capture of the catastrophic sport injury and illness events and increasing our understanding about how they can be prevented. To learn more about NCCSIR and the Consortium for Catastrophic Injury Monitoring in Sport please see last year’s blog post or visit our website.


  1. Thacker, S.B., Public health surveillance and the prevention of injuries in sports: what gets measured gets done. J Athl Train, 2007. 42(2): p. 171-2.
  2. Thacker, S.B. and R.L. Berkelman, Public health surveillance in the United States. Epidemiol Rev, 1988. 10: p. 164-90.