The number of high school athletes in the U.S. who have experienced a concussion has more than doubled from 2005 to 2012, according to new research published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The study, which pulled data from nine team sports, shows that the concussion rate increased from .23 concussions to .51 per 1,000 athlete exposure. An athlete exposure is defined as one athlete participating in one competition or practice.
“It’s scary to consider these numbers because at first glance it looks like sports are getting more dangerous and athletes are getting injured more often,” said Joseph Rosenthal, M.D., clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
Researchers, however, suspect the higher statistics to be the result of increased awareness, especially since there was a surge in reports after the 2008-09 academic year — around the time that states were passing legislation promoting education about concussions. Also, media coverage on head injuries in professional athletes has increased over the last five to 10 years.
“This study is observational so it doesn’t offer any proof about why the rates are going up. But I think in reality it’s showing that concussions that were occurring before are now being diagnosed more consistently — which is important,” said Rosenthal.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the High School Reporting Information Online (HS RIO) sports injury surveillance system. The system contains information from a sample of 100 U.S. high schools that have at least one certified athletic trainer on staff.
Between 2005 and 2012, there were 4,024 concussions experienced by athletes in nine sports: boys football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys wrestling, boys baseball, and girls softball.
Reportable concussions were those that required medical attention and restricted the athlete from sports participation for one or more days after the event. Criteria were expanded in the 2007-08 school year to report concussions regardless of play restrictions.
Rosenthal, a doctor who treats non-athletes with concussions and other brain injuries at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, noted that concussions affect much more than just the ability to play sports.
“A lot of injured athletes don’t want to come out of games or stop practicing because they don’t want to lose their position. But they can have symptoms that can last for an extended time period that can affect day-to-day life, school, and personal relationships — they can experience irritability, pain, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems,” he said.
“Furthermore, if they continue to play while symptomatic, they are at risk for a second impact that can lead to severe disability and death. If you have symptoms, you’ve got to rest your brain and prevent further injury in order to recover.”
This initial study, Rosenthal said, suggests that “people are starting to recognize the seriousness of concussions and how important it is to treat them appropriately.”
“Our theory is that more people are looking for concussions, and athletes, parents, and coaches are being educated on the symptoms and importance of removal from participation, as well as treatment. There is a greater emphasis on monitoring for injury.”
Source: Ohio State University