Kids with One Kidney Safe to Play Sports

Kidney injury risk low among high school varsity atheletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) For the most part, high school sports are safe. Still, parents worry that their kids will get hurt. At least parents can rest assured that their children are unlikely to hurt their kidneys.

Kidney injuries are uncommon among high school varsity athletes. In fact, such injuries are so rare that even athletes with one healthy kidney should be allowed to play contact sports.

"Encourage kids to exercise."

There has been little research on kidney injuries among high school athletes. For this reason, doctors often advise young athletes with one kidney to avoid contact sports, such as football.

"Many people have restricted that activity in the past because of concern about the loss of the kidney, but we've been able to show that the risk is really extraordinarily small," says Victoria Norwood, MD, of the University of Virginia and one of the authors of the current study.

"Children with single kidneys - and it's important to note normal single kidneys - are really at exceedingly minimal risk from routine contact sports and therefore should be allowed to participate as they and their families desire," she says.

For their study, Dr. Norwood and colleagues looked at 23,600 injuries among high school varsity athletes. Of these injuries, only 18 were kidney injuries. None of the kidney injuries was too severe or required surgery.

Knee injuries (3,450), head/neck/spine injuries (2,069), and mild traumatic brain injuries (1,219) were more common than kidney injuries.

Dr. Norwood found that many doctors recommended that youth with one kidney not be allowed to play contact sports because there was no evidence to show that it was safe. At that point, she realized the need to study this topic.

"People were forced to make decisions over the years without any real evidence," Dr. Norwood says.

She notes that young athletes were kept off the football field while they were allowed to play other sports that pose a much greater risk to the kidneys.

"Football seems to cause the most concern for physicians, not realizing that they were not restricting downhill skiing, horseback riding or bicycling," she explains.

"Those activities are not intended as contact sports, but the truth of the matter is you do hit things in those activities, and when you do, the outcome can be quite catastrophic," she says.

According to Dr. Norwood, birth defects are the most common reason children have only one kidney.

The amount of force generated in high school sports is unlikely to be strong enough to cause severe kidney damage, she says.

The findings from this study may help doctors give more specific recommendations to young athletes with one kidney.

At the moment, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that young athletes with one kidney should be allowed to play. However, the lack of evidence leaves doctors uneasy about letting these athletes play contact sports.

Dr. Norwood hopes that the results of the current study will help doctors feel more comfortable about encouraging youth with one kidney to play sports.

"In today's world, where kids get too little exercise anyway, we have an obesity epidemic," she says. "The last thing we need to do is discourage exercise of any type, unless there is real evidence behind that restriction."

The study's results are published in the journal Pediatrics

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 25, 2012
Last Updated:
November 27, 2012