Troubling trends about concussions in high school athletes

Attention to sports-related concussions has never been higher. Most of the focus, however, has been centered on professional athletes and the sport of football. We are beginning to realize that young athletes are more susceptible to concussions than older ones. With neurocognitive development ongoing throughout the adolescent years, concussions in these age groups can have long-term consequences. Data regarding concussions in younger athletes is critical to make recommendations that could prevent these injuries.

Soccer concussionA new study in the April 2012 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine presents data collected from high school athletes playing twenty different sports. Mallika Marar et al. gathered injury data from high schools across the United States. Over the 2008-2010 academic years, the researchers found 14,635 injuries reported in their sample of schools among the twenty sports. Concussions comprised 1936, or 13.2%, of all the injuries reported. The sports reporting the most concussions were football, girls’ soccer, boys wrestling, and girls’ basketball, in that order.

What jump out at me most in this study are some worrisome trends. Even though concussions varied somewhat by sport and gender, concussions occurred much more frequently in competition than in practice, regardless of sport. Also a majority of athletes missed more than one week due to the concussion.

Even more worrisome for parents of female high school athletes was the finding that concussion rates were higher in the girls’ sports than in the boys’ for all sports with similar rules and equipment. Concussions also made up a larger proportion of total injuries among female athletes than males. Plus, in almost every sport, girls had a higher rate of recurrent concussions. While debate as to the reasons why girls could be at higher risk of concussion exists, these findings suggest that these sports-related traumatic brain injuries could be even more damaging to young girls.

Football concussionI think that it is important to emphasize two messages after reading this study. First, in all of the sports, player-to-player contact was the leading cause of concussions. We must do a better job, not just at the high school level, but also throughout youth sports, to teach proper techniques and enforce rules about aggressive play.

Second, the authors found a noticeable percentage of concussions where the athlete was cleared to play on the same day. The current concussion consensus statement recommends that no athlete be allowed to return to play on the same day as they suffer a concussion. We know that complete resolution of all symptoms often takes at least a week or more. Therefore we need to do a better job as parents, coaches, and healthcare professionals at holding athletes out of the sport for at least one week after his or her symptoms completely resolve.

The Dr. David Geier ShowFor a longer discussion of concussions in female athletes and young athletes, please listen to the In the Zone segment of Episode 27 of The Dr. David Geier Show. The discussion starts at 4:24.

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