Without question, media attention on concussions in sports has increased in recent years. It seems as if we hear stories on a weekly basis about the long-term dangers of concussions or pro athletes suffering bad head injuries.
But are concussions actually occurring more often in sports today than in prior years?
The latest data on concussions in high school sports
In a study recently published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, Joseph A. Rosenthal, MD and others looked to answer that question. They compared the incidence of concussions between the 2005-2006 season and 2011-2012. They analyzed the data reported in the High School Reporting Information Online (HS RIO) injury surveillance system. Specifically they looked at concussion rates in nine high school sports: football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys wrestling, boys baseball and girls softball.
Findings on concussions in high school sports
- The overall concussion rate of the nine sports combined increased between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012 from 0.23 concussions per 1000 athlete-exposures to 0.51.
- The rates of concussion increased in all nine individual sports during that period.
- Football had the highest concussion rate in the 2005-2006 and 2011-2012 seasons.
- In sports with girls and boys teams and the same rules used, like soccer and basketball, girls had higher concussion rates.
What can we make of these findings?
On one hand, the findings could be worrisome. The concussion rates increased in every sport. Maybe athletes are getting bigger, stronger and faster and delivering more forceful blows to competitors.
On the other hand, these rates are probably rising at least partially because athletes, coaches and athletic trainers recognize these injuries more often. All of the media attention and concussion education might be raising awareness of these dangerous head injuries.
Regardless, we need to keep working to treat and prevent them. It is crucial that we continue to teach athletes and coaches about the dangers of concussions and how to recognize their signs and symptoms. We need athletic trainers at games and practices to help identify concussed athletes. We should perform baseline neurocognitive testing to help better assess when athletes are safe to return to play.
If anything, this study should point out that the increased attention on concussions is justified.
Rosenthal JA, Foraker RE, Collins CL, Comstock RD. National High School Athlete Concussion Rates From 2005-2006 to 2011-2012. Am J Sports Med. Published online April 16, 2014.