Basketball: National champion of sports eye injuries

March 22, 2017
College basketball is the talk of the town, so contribute to the conversation.

Sports media characterized forward Akil Mitchell's eye trauma as a "freak injury." But eye injuries in basketball are not so rare.

Basketball is America's leading cause of sports-related eye injuries, but the former University of Virginia starter—who took the 2014 Cavaliers team to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16—isn't counted in those statistics. That's because Mitchell, a member of the New Zealand Breakers, made headlines in a January game in Auckland when a wayward finger partially dislodged his eye on a contested rebound.  

While graphic, Mitchell didn't sustain serious injury and, fortunately, felt well enough to jest following the situation.

However, the circumstance is just one in a spell of basketball-related eye injuries in recent years. In fact, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology this past December found more than 1 in 5 cases of sports-related ocular trauma could be attributed to basketball. Using ICD-9 data from 2010-13, researchers found 120,847 people presenting to emergency departments with sports-related ocular trauma, most commonly with open wounds to the adnexa.

Keith Smithson, O.D., staff doctor of optometry for the half-dozen professional sports teams in the Washington, D.C.-area, says basketball clearly takes its toll—multiple lacerations, corneal abrasions and traumatic inflammation issues occur routinely.  

"The bottom line is that without a sport mandate on eye protection, most basketball players will play unprotected, and there are a lot of flying fingers and elbows in close proximity to the eyes in that sport, leading to the causative factor for most injuries."  

Doctors should advocate for sports eye protection that meets the guidelines from ASTM International, a global standards development organization, and not only in basketball. Polycarbonate sports goggles that meet ASTM F803 criteria are appropriate for basketball and should be stressed over 'street' eyewear that can shatter or break easily.

With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, Dr. Smithson also suggests now as a perfect time to connect with local sports teams about the critical eye care services that optometry provides.  

"Doctors of optometry should reach out to their local teams, leagues, etc., and offer to be an on-call site for such injury occurrences during the basketball season," he says.  

Optometry and professional sports  

Such outreach is just step one to developing a unique partnership with local sports teams, and a panel discussion at Optometry's Meeting® in Washington, D.C., aims to help doctors with the X's and O's of this venture.  

Find out how to become part of a sports franchise's multidisciplinary medical team, contributing your expertise alongside team orthopedists, trainers, ophthalmologists and neuropsychologists, in a continuing education (CE) course titled, "Optometry's Role in Professional Sports." Moderated by Dr. Smithson, the course will help answer lingering questions for practitioners interested in working with sports teams, including opening the door to create that relationship.  

Featuring two case studies that highlight how communication and interaction is necessary to manage acute injury, the panel discussion also welcomes former NBA star and Wizards standout Etan Thomas to discuss his own story.

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