Keeping Kidneys Safe During Athletic Events

Posted by Alerna Kidney Health on

When it comes to kidney health, one area many people might overlook is sports. While it's vital to stay hydrated while exerting yourself physically, that's not the only kind of risk athletes need to be wary of. There is a chance that athletic competitions and practices can result in renal trauma, which in severe cases can have life-altering consequences.

Many healthcare professionals worry that for children who have only one kidney, whether they were born that way or had one removed surgically for whatever reason, the risk of participating in athletics is even higher. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics official recommends that doctors should individually evaluate if a child with a solitary kidney should participate in sports where high amounts of contact and collisions are common. The organization absolutely doesn't recommend boxing for any adolescents, and cautions against the kind of hard collisions that might occur in hockey or football before a child turns 16.

Some have questioned the recommendations and concerns issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They cite studies that indicate renal trauma makes up a small percentage of all sports-related injuries. These health professionals also point out that snowboarding, skiing, sledding, skateboarding, sledding and equestrian activities produce more kidney-related injuries than other sports, even football and hockey, yet involve limited or no contact with other participants.

Making the matter even more interesting, some studies reveal that renal trauma happens more often to people riding bicycles than anyone participating in other forms of exercise, even high-impact competitive team sports.

The leading cause of kidney trauma isn't sports, but motor vehicle accidents. Still, nobody is advocating that children, even those with a single kidney, avoid riding in a car.

Precautions for Solitary Kidney Patients

Even if a child or adult has a solitary kidney, that certainly doesn't mean sports participation is out of the question. In fact, the regular exercise that an involvement in sports promotes is beneficial to most with a renal condition, helping to guard against various risks that could make the condition much worse.

At the same time, anyone with a solitary kidney needs to clearly understand that protecting that area of the body while engaging in any physically rigorous activity is absolutely critical. Losing the remaining kidney would result in doing dialysis for hours at a time, multiple times a week, which takes several hours of staying in the same spot. Other restrictions would be set in place, including diet changes. Eventually, the patient might be able to get a kidney transplant, but it's best to just take some protective measures.

Many people turn to different types of padding that guard the area of the back where the kidneys are located. The idea is that with the extra cushion the kidneys are guarded against sudden blows that can be common in sports, especially those with balls. Certainly taking such a precaution isn't a bad idea, but most studies have been inconclusive when it comes to proving that such padding actually prevents renal trauma on any level.

Studies have also found that children or adults engaging in cycling or skiing are at a much higher risk for head injury than renal trauma. In other words, you shouldn't focus only on protecting the kidneys, because other vital organs can be injured if you do.  

As some have pointed out, children and adults only have one head. They argue that the logic behind keeping a person from participating in a sport because of a solitary kidney should be applied to sports were cranial trauma is common. That, of course, is a ridiculous course of action because of the availability of helmets. At the same time, the lack of solid evidence that certain guards offer definitive protection for the kidneys is reason enough to still exercise caution and good judgement before engaging in certain sports.

Penetrating Trauma Versus Blunt Trauma

There are two types of renal trauma a person can suffer from. A blunt injury results from an object slamming against the kidney area, such as a ball, other person, sports equipment, wall or even the ground. These are by far the most common form of renal injury.

While not likely, penetrating renal trauma is still a risk. Few sports involve the use of objects that have the potential to penetrate the body and for good reason, but some unexpected risks do exist that athletes should know about.

While blunt force trauma to the kidneys does occur, health care researchers have found that it usually results in low grade trauma. That means few people who suffer a blunt force kidney injury are admitted to the hospital. Treatment for such injuries usually involves bed rest and close observation by a doctor to ensure no complications arise.

The sad truth is that penetrating renal trauma is often severe in nature and requires immediate medical care. It also usually goes hand-in-hand with trauma to surrounding organs in the abdomen, such as the bladder, and requires surgery to repair the damage.

After a kidney injury, if you see any blood in the urine, experience tenderness/pain in the abdomen area or have a fever of over 100.5 degrees you need to call your doctor immediately since such symptoms can indicate a complication.

Despite some people claiming otherwise, both kidneys are equally at risk of suffering from trauma, both blunt force and penetrating, thanks to their symmetrical position in the body.

Adults Versus Children

While adults should exercise caution whenever participating in a sports activity, the fact is that children are far more at risk for kidney injuries. Studies of renal injury rates have found that those who are at the greatest risk are children between the ages of five and eighteen. Adults have more muscle and bones surrounding the kidneys, providing a natural cushioning that softens blows. Children are far more exposed, which makes wearing protective gear a great option to consider.

Options for Protective Gear

It's understandable why parents would be concerned about protecting their child's kidneys during an athletic event. Even adult athletes might worry that a harsh impact could cause renal trauma, something that's not only painful but can have effects that last for a lifetime.

One of the many protective devices available on the market today is the TKO kidney protector. It and similar belts are highly padded and wrap around the kidneys, helping soften the blow from a ball or other player running into that area of the body. The belts are also useful in sports without contact, because a person can suddenly fall backwards and strike the ground or any other hard object.

Another option for athletes is the WSI Wikmax kidney protection shirt. It's to be worn underneath a uniform, offering extra padding not only for the kidneys but also the player's heart, ribs and other organs. Of course there are other protective shirts on the market, but this is just one example of the kinds of preventative measures parents and athletes can take.

Patients, especially those who are left with a solitary kidney, can also go to their doctor for guidance on protective gear. Medical devices of varying sizes are available, offering a customized level of protection. By seeking professional help, high-risk individuals receive the best solution possible to prevent renal trauma while participating in sports.


Riding a bicycle is tremendous exercise, providing children and adults with a way to build endurance and improve their cardiovascular health. For those reasons alone, it's best to find a way for children and adults alike to cycle freely, without concern for renal trauma. By taking some conscientious steps, this can be a reality.

Anyone who owns a bicycle should be aware of proper maintenance practices, especially when it comes to the handlebars. Loose handlebars can cause the rider to lose control quickly, flipping off the bicycle and landing hard on the back.

In a crash, the rider can also fall onto the actual bicycle. The handlebars and pedals present a high degree of risk when it comes to renal trauma since they protrude out and are solid objects, but even the tubular frame or tires could deliver enough of an impact to injure the kidneys.

Parents should never allow a child to ride on a bicycle where the handlebar covers have been worn off to any degree, or where the pads are thin. The handlebars themselves are made of metal and have sharp edges. Over time, those edges bite into the soft handle covers, making it vital to replace them. The average person can perform this work without any special knowledge or tools, but if necessary a cycle shop can easily swap out the covers for a reasonable fee.

Going off jumps on a bicycle is inherently risky. It's incredibly easy for the rider to fall off the bicycle, either in midair or once the tires strike the ground. The person can then be sent careening through the air at a high rate of speed, which makes any collision against the bicycle, a stationary object or even the ground more severe.

Whenever a child is cycling, an adult needs to be supervising the activity. Children simply lack the level of judgement to always assess the potential risks of a situation, which is why it's vital to have an aware adult present.


Plenty of people enjoy sledding in the winter months, whether they're fortunate enough to have a good hill near their home, or they travel to use one. Unfortunately, sledding can also be dangerous if certain precautions aren't taken. Every year, children and adults are injured while sledding, with some injuries so serious they require inpatient hospital treatment.

While sledding itself isn’t a bad activity, selecting the right spot is absolutely critical to avoid injury. Look for a slope where large rocks, trees, fences, poles and other stationary objects aren't present. It's easy for people, especially children, to lose control while sledding and crash into these obstacles. A sled can pick up quite a bit of speed, making a crash that much more serious.

When it comes to avoiding renal trauma, one of the best policies is to not sled near any roads. There's too much risk that the sled could go out into the road as a car is approaching, leading to a serious accident. A person in a sled can only control what direction they go in to a limited degree, and has even less control when it comes to braking. Drivers in vehicles on slick roadways might also be limited in their ability to avoid a sled that suddenly appears.

It's also a bad idea to use a car to tow a person on a sled. Not only could stopping suddenly make the sled hit the back of the vehicle hard, the person on the sled could lose control while going through turns or performing other maneuvers. Other drivers on the road might not be able to avoid running into the sled, or they may not even see it, increasing the risk of serious injury.

Many designated sledding hills are located far enough away from roads and don't have dangerous obstacles. While these make excellent places to enjoy a day in the snow, there's still a risk. Big crowds at these popular hills can be dangerous if multiple people are sledding at once. The sleds can collide in a serious wreck. Avoiding crowded sledding spots, or going when they're not as busy, is a wise move.

Skiing and Snowboarding

Another popular winter pastime is downhill skiing or snowboarding. The risks are quite similar to sledding, such as slopes that are too crowded and stationary objects like trees or rocks.

One of the most critical steps anyone can take to cut down on the risk of injury while skiing or snowboarding is to be properly trained. People who haven't gone through professional courses are far more likely to get themselves into trouble and have a serious accident on the slopes. Most resorts offer skiing and snowboarding lessons, not only for children but also for adults, and there's no shame in signing up for them. The professionals who conduct these classes teach techniques that not only give a skier or snowboarder greater control, helping cut down on how often they fall on their back.

Downhill skiing presents less of a danger for renal trauma than snowboarding, at least to a degree. When riding a snowboard, there are only two options for falling, forward or back. With skis, you can fall to one side of the other, as well as forward or back. The problem is that when a rider falls forward, there's a real risk of serious injury to the face, head, neck, wrists or hands. Falling backwards can still be dangerous since it presents a danger to the back, including the kidneys.

Many think that the only risk to their kidneys is falling hard on their back one time. While that certainly is a factor, an even more common threat is repeatedly falling backwards while riding on a snowboard for several hours. Over time, the stress from the blows adds up and can result in serious damage to the kidneys. This is especially true of people who like to go snowboarding on a regular basis.

There are some steps snowboarders and skiers can take to cut down on the likelihood that they'll be injured. Staying physically fit throughout the year can actually reduce any risk of renal trauma, because the less a person weighs the less force will be exerted in a backwards fall.

Warming up before going out on the slope for that first run is also a great idea. Too often, skiers and snowboarders are so eager to hit some fresh powder that they don't even think about this step. The fact is that if your muscles are too cold, they can lock up and not move properly, which can cause you to crash. Warming up doesn't take long, and it will also help you avoid at least some soreness the next day.

You should always know your own limits and stay within them. For example, beginning skiers and snowboarders shouldn't attempt going down a triple black diamond slope since the risk of injury will skyrocket. While doing that might produce a real rush, landing in the emergency room and dealing with any long-term consequences of such a decision makes it not worth the risk.

To further decrease the risk of injury, seek professional help with selecting the proper equipment. Boots should be properly fitted to offer correct support, while skis and bindings need to be maintained properly to avoid malfunctions while on the slopes. It's also worth the extra cost of going with quality equipment instead of bargain offerings since they'll be less likely to malfunction under pressure, which also helps reduce the chance of wrecking out on the mountainside.


Riding on a skateboard is fun, but anyone who's spent much time around the sport knows that injuries are common. Helmets, pads for the elbows/knees and wrist guards all help cut down on the risk of a broken bone or other injuries quite a bit. There's also a definite risk to the kidneys when a rider falls backwards. Because skateboarding is done on hard surfaces, there will be little to cushion such a fall. Wearing one of the protective products discussed previously certainly doesn't hurt.

One of the worst scenarios is when a skateboarder falls backwards and hits a rail or the edge of a hard surface. This makes halfpipes, bowls, ramps and rails that are commonly found in skate parks particularly risky. Being aware of the dangers should at least help skateboarders stay safe.

Horseback Riding

Riding a horse, or any kind of equestrian activity, actually presents more a risk for renal trauma than many team sports. A rider can fall off the horse, especially when jumping obstacles or negotiating hilly terrain, which is when injuries are common.

Many professionals recommend that any equestrian activity be matched with the rider's ability. In other words, a novice shouldn't be taking a horse through an obstacle course. Horses that are gentle should be paired with children and beginner adults, because an animal that's difficult to reign in can increase the risk of injury dramatically.

One thing that parents might not think about is drilling their children to not stand where they can be kicked by a horse. This should be taught before arriving at the stable or equestrian facility for the first time. That kind of a solid strike to the kidneys could most definitely result in renal trauma.


Protecting your own or your child's kidneys while participating in sports of any kind is an excellent idea, especially for anyone who has a solo kidney. That being said, the risks of renal trauma resulting from participating in most sports is low.

The honest truth is that multiple studies indicate that every year far more people suffer from kidney damage after being in car wrecks. In fact, kidney injuries are far less common than trauma to the head, neck, brain or spine in many contact sports such as football or soccer. Knee injuries are a real risk for all sports. When it comes to basketball and baseball, eye injuries are common.

Ironically, many activities that involve limited or no contact with other people carry a greater risk of renal trauma. These include riding horses, cycling, snowboarding, skiing, sledding and skateboarding. In addition to wearing protection, maintaining equipment and exercising caution greatly helps with reducing any risks.

With a low risk to the kidneys from athletics, it's not necessarily required to limit participation in such activities. That being said, patients who have a history of kidney problems should consult with their doctor before engaging in high-risk sports or exercise that could involve collisions of any kind. The doctor can help formulate a plan that will reduce the chance of renal trauma, helping everyone feel more at ease with the situation.

Participating in sports is actually a positive life decision since it promotes physical fitness. Many kidney conditions result from the onset of hypertension, diabetes, etc. which can be avoided by pursuing an active lifestyle.

Our informational articles are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

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