Youth Concussion Rates Skyrocket

It may seem like we keep banging the concussion drum, but this story doesn’t go away.  According to new information published online today, the number of concussion-related hospital emergency visits for children ages 8-13 doubled between 1997 and 2007 (a 100% increase). For youth age 14-19, the increase was 200%, a 4-fold increase.

The cause of this increase isn’t clear, but the researchers note that most of the concussions happened as a result of sports, even though fewer kids participate in organized team sports. So…if fewer kids play organized team sports, but there are more concussions due to sports, what exactly is going on?

According to the experts, there are a few potential explanations:

  • while there are fewer organized team sports, there are more sports activities available;
  • organized sports today are even more competitive today than they were in 1997, which puts kids at higher risk;
  • practice and play times have become more intense.

There is also the possibility that parents and coaches are more aware of the symptoms of concussion, and are therefore more likely to take an injured child to the hospital.

No matter the reason(s) for the increase, everyone agrees that action needs to be taken to bring these rates down. For example, there need to be clear, comprehensive, and age-appropriate return-to-play guidelines for all young athletes. In the future, we may also see use of MRI scans, balance tests, and neuropsychological testing to take the guesswork out of concussion diagnoses. Helmet use should be required in sports that currently have no helmet rules (such as for skiing)…and other equipment could be modified to reduce injury risk (for example, padding goalposts, or decreasing mass and air pressure of soccer balls).

For more information, see this story posted by NPR:

The original medical journal article is available online: Pediatrics

The reference is:

“Emergency Department Visits for Concussion in Young Child Athletes,” by Lisa L. Bakhos, Gregory R. Lockhart, Richard Myers, and James G. Linakis. Pediatrics, online publication August 30, 2010.

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