Having only one kidney shouldn't deter healthy youths from playing sports, according to a new study that flies in the face of widespread safety concerns.
An estimated one in 1,500 children is born with a single kidney, and surveys show many doctors would advise such kids against contact sports. The fear is that without a twin organ to take over, athletes who suffer kidney injuries could end up needing lifelong dialysis or transplants.
But those worries appear to be misplaced. After combing through a large database of sports-related injuries among varsity-level high school athletes, researchers found only 18 cases involving the kidney. That's about four kidney injuries per one million times an athlete hits the playing field.
"Even in the highest-risk group, kidney injury is a very rare condition," said Dr. Matthew Grinsell of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, whose results are published in the journal Pediatrics.
"Especially with today's obesity epidemic, I am very, very reluctant to counsel somebody against physical activity," he told Reuters Health
The new findings are based on data from the National Athletic Trainers' Association High School Injury Surveillance Study from 1995 to 1997.
Most of the kidney injuries were simple bruises to the organ and none of them caused permanent damage. Most happened during football -- but even then, knee and head injuries were far more common, with 67 concussions for each kidney injury.
"We know that kidney injuries from traffic accidents are two to 10 times more common than kidney injuries from sports," Grinsell explained. "Some people have argued it might actually be more dangerous to drive to your doctor to talk about kidney injuries from sports than actually playing sports."
Still, for kids with only one kidney, he said it's important to make sure the organ works normally and that blood pressure is not too high before sending them onto the field. The American Academy of Pediatrics also says it is okay for kids to play sports despite having just one kidney, but only after they have been seen by a doctor.
"If somebody has a passion, I really don't limit it," said Grinsell. "I push the more general safety issues, like wearing a helmet if you are a bicyclist."