According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, sports-related concussions account for more than half of all emergency room visits by children aged 8 through 13. A child who has had a concussion is one and a half times more likely to have another, and those who have had two concussions have a threefold greater risk of the same injury happening again.
Many parents question whether they should let their kids participate in sports like football and soccer, in which head injuries are most common. Concerns about concussion have been cited as a reason for a decline in Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football program.
A growing number of parents now weigh the risks of concussion when helping their children decide which sport to pursue. The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2012 that tackle football players sustained the most concussions among high-school-age athletes, with 11.2 reported among 10,000 “athletic exposures” – the number of practices and games in which an athlete participates. Lacrosse was the next riskiest with 6.0 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures, although a recent study found ice hockey and wrestling to be more hazardous than lacrosse.
Among girls, soccer is associated with the highest risk – 6.7 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures, according to the academy study. While many focus on the risks of heading a ball, a new study of high school soccer players found that contact with another player was by far the most frequent cause of concussions among female and male players.
The study’s authors, from the University of Colorado School of Public Health, predicted that “banning heading is unlikely to eliminate athlete-athlete contact or resultant injuries.” They noted that soccer had become a much more physical sport in recent years, resulting in more collisions between players.
Girls’ basketball is not far behind, with 5.6 concussions per 10,000 exposures, a rate twice that of boys’ basketball.
Gymnastics has seen a sharp rise in concussions in recent years.
The lowest concussion rate is associated with swimming, with only 0.2 injuries per 10,000 exposures among girls and 0.1 among boys who swim competitively, according to a 2012 study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
Athletes, parents and coaches should know the signs and symptoms of concussion, some of which may show up hours or days after the injury. The athletic trainers’ report includes these:
* Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering new information.
* Headache, blurry vision, queasiness or vomiting, dizziness or balance problems or sensitivity to light.
* Irritability, moodiness, sadness or nervousness.
* Excessive sleepiness or difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep.
All 50 states have laws to protect young athletes suspected of having sustained a head injury. Most important, the laws stipulate that no one with even a slight concussion should return to play the day of injury. The athlete should be evaluated and cleared by a health care provider trained to do so before returning.
Steven P. Broglio, the director of the Neurotrauma Research Lab at the University of Michigan notes that almost no sport is free of a concussion hazard and that participating in sports has “cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits that outweigh everything.”
nytimeshealth.com August 24, 2015