Contact injuries from non-contact sports

Dr. K.Jeffrey Miller

In sports medicine, many activities are classified as contact or non-contact sports. These classifications are useful for studying the injuries associated with each sport and their severity.

For example, sports like football, hockey, and boxing involve contact that can cause serious injury. Sports like running, volleyball, and table tennis rarely involve contact and rarely cause serious injury.

Some sports are hybrids of these categories, but the hybrid is not listed as a category.

Baseball is considered a non-contact sport, but it’s really a hybrid. Players can be injured in collisions at home plate, hit by a pitch, or when two fielders collide while chasing a ball. Several throws hit me in my youth, and once I collided with another player when we were both trying to catch the same ball. The collision left me with a broken arm.

Sports classifications are useful in an academic setting, but there are gray areas. I mentioned hybrids, but there are situations beyond hybrids where a sport and an injury are completely incompatible. Specifically, significant contact injuries from sports that rarely involve contact.

I will use Llyod as the first example of a complete mismatch between a sport and an injury. Lloyd worked for a small company owned and operated by his lifelong best friend who repaired vacuum cleaners. Lloyd and his boss-friend were close and did everything together.

Lloyd was a nice guy but nervous and touchy. He always seemed ready to argue. I’ve often wondered what type of personality his boss-friend had that got him along with Llyod for years.

One Monday morning, I came across Lloyd in a cafe. His face was bruised and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. When I asked him what had happened to him, he told me that he and his boss friend had had a fight.

As I said, Llyod and the boss friend did everything together. This included fishing and drinking. They had combined the two over the previous weekend, and a fight developed over which lure was best for largemouth bass. The argument led to two broken ribs for Lloyd.

After Lloyd told me the story, he asked me what I thought. I told him that I hadn’t realized that fishing was a contact sport. He was not amused. Lloyd and his boss-friend continued to work together.

Gerry is my second example. Gerry played golf on Sundays with his father-in-law, his brother-in-law (the man married to his wife’s sister) and a friend. One Sunday, the friend canceled and the stepfather asked his son to play instead of the friend. The idea was not popular with Gerry or his brother-in-law. They didn’t care about their wives’ brother.

Let us clarify because this is getting a bit confusing. A father, his son and the two men married to the father’s daughters played golf. Thus, three of the men were brothers-in-law. All the participants were doctors and lawyers.

The son had several personal issues and had been a pain to everyone in the family for years. As Gerry said, “The guy is a jerk.”

When the game started, the son started recapping all his problems and blamed them on his father. He constantly criticized his father for the first four holes.

At the start of the fifth hole, Gerry had had enough. He deeply admired his stepfather and told the son to stop. On the eighth hole, the son was still yelping. This time, Gerry told the son to be quiet, otherwise he would shut up for him. More words were exchanged and Gerry punched the son in the mouth.

The fight covered most of the green for several minutes. The father frantically tried to break up the fight while the other brother-in-law remained leaning on a golf club. My interpretation of the brother-in-law leaning on the golf club is that he couldn’t bring himself to hit the son, but he didn’t mind if Gerry did.

The fight ended with the son running as fast as he could towards the clubhouse. Moments after the fight ended, four gentlemen in a golf cart arrived and surveyed the situation. Gerry said: “Golf clubs were lying around, my hat was twisted backwards and I was missing a shoe.” After a moment of awkward silence, one of the gentlemen in the cart said, “We’ll play until the end.”

Over the past 35 years I have collected other examples of contact injuries in non-contact sports. Being a lifelong student, I learned several lessons from these cases. The most crucial lesson is to always wear catcher’s gear when fishing or golfing.

Dr. Jeff Miller is a Doctor of Chiropractic at the Missouri Orthopedic Institute and the University of Missouri School of Medicine at Columbia.

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