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Emergency Rooms Experience Spike In Football Injuries On Thanksgiving

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

You probably already know some of the big Thanksgiving safety tips - defrost your bird in the fridge, not on the counter. No frozen turkeys in the deep fryer. Don't bring up politics around uncle Mike. Well, here's one more way a lot of people hurt themselves on Thanksgiving - playing football. Ben Casselman learned that lesson the hard way. A few years ago, he was home for the holiday with his family and they assembled in the backyard for a friendly scrimmage.

BEN CASSELMAN: My brother and I are always on opposite teams. And somehow between the two of us the touch football blends into full contact pretty quickly.

SHAPIRO: So maybe it's not that surprising that one of those games left Ben Casselman with a broken finger.

CASSELMAN: So off I went to the emergency room, where I found a whole collection of other men in their kind of 30s and early 40s, a few years past all of our athletic prime with knee injuries and ankle injuries and finger injuries and generally a lot of people who had maybe overexerted themselves on the backyard gridiron.

SHAPIRO: These days, Ben Casselman is a reporter and editor for the data journalism site fivethirtyeight.com, so he decided to dig into the numbers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission collects statistics on emergency room visits.

CASSELMAN: And it turns out that Thanksgiving is far and away the day which dominates football injuries. There were around a thousand Americans a year who get hurt playing football on Thanksgiving.

SHAPIRO: One-thousand broken, strained and sprained fingers, shoulders, ankles and knees. We should say Casselman only looked at adults age 25 and older, no high school or college games.

CASSELMAN: And this, of course, is just the people who end up in the ER. This isn't counting all of the - the ankle sprains and whatever else that, you know, you just have a beer and try to forget about.

SHAPIRO: Casselman suspects that most of the victims are, like him, holiday weekend-warrior types.

CASSELMAN: We haven't been on the football field in a few years. And we go out there and we're convinced we can still do what we did in our 20s. And it turns out that that's not as true as it used to be.

SHAPIRO: If you're wondering how not to become one of those backyard football casualties, we have some tips. Casselman got this advice from a doctor at the hospital where his broken finger was treated.

CASSELMAN: Well, so the big thing he recommended, of course, is that you should get athletic activity throughout the year. But it's a little too late for that now. So if you're not an athlete but you're going to play football anyway, he recommended stretching; he recommended knowing your limits; and he recommended that football first, alcohol second, not the other way around.

SHAPIRO: Thanksgiving words of wisdom from Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.