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National statistics on youth head injuries

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE - Members of the New Britain Jr. Hurricanes participate in the 'Heads Up Football' practice during a visit from Heads Up Football Advisory Committee Member Chris Golic and her husband Mike on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in New Britain, Connecticut. (Kike Calvo/AP Images for National Football League)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE - Members of the New Britain Jr. Hurricanes participate in the 'Heads Up Football' practice during a visit from Heads Up Football Advisory Committee Member Chris Golic and her husband Mike on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in New Britain, Connecticut. (Kike Calvo/AP Images for National Football League)

National statistics show that no one really knows how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions, it’s not clear if better headgear is the answer, and football.

A recent report, by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, reveals big gaps in what is known about the risk of concussion in youth sports, especially for athletes who play before they reach high school age.

Despite a decade of increasing awareness of the seriousness of concussions, the panel found young athletes still face a “culture of resistance” to reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it’s healed.

“Concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously. If an athlete has a torn ACL on the field , you don’t expect him to tape it up and play,” said IOM committee chairman Dr. Robert Graham, who directs the Aligning Forces for Quality national program office at George Washington University.

Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community sports, it’s not clear how many suffer concussions, in part because many go undiagnosed. But those statistics that do exist show that among people 19 and younger, 250,000 were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001.

For male athletes in high school and college, concussion rates are highest for football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. For females, soccer, lacrosse and basketball head the list. Women’s ice hockey has one of the highest reported concussion rates at the college level.

At this time, there’s little scientific evidence that current sports helmet designs or other gear, such as face masks or headbands for soccer, really reduce the risk, the panel cautioned.

The report found that every state except Mississippi has passed a concussion law since Washington started the trend in 2009, prompted by a 13-year-old who suffered permanent disability after returning to a football game despite a concussion. The laws address such things as criteria for removal from play and standards for return-to-play decisions, but most are in the early stages of being implemented.

Typically, youth athletes recover from a concussion within two weeks. But in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, symptoms can persist for weeks, months, occasionally even longer, the report found. A second blow before full recovery is especially dangerous.

Youths who have already had a concussion are at higher risk for subsequent ones, and there are calls for a “hit count” to limit the number of head impacts in a week or a season make sense — but there’s no evidence to say what that number should be.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says teachers may need to ease students back into learning after a concussion. There’s increasing evidence that too much mental activity can prolong recovery, too. Sensitivity to light, headaches or memory difficulties may require breaks or extra time on assignments when the student returns to class.

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This is the first of a four-part series on concussions and their impact on youth sports in the area. The football player absorbed a hard hit on a kickoff at a recent high school football game and was clearly dazed. He staggered around until a teammate hollered, “Hey, you all right?” The player turned and gave a wobbly thumbs-up. The … 0

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