Concussion Rates in High School Athletes Have Doubled

HS athleteAccording to a new study recently published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, the rate of concussions in U.S. high school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012. Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio State University, gathered a team to study concussions and injury in high school sports.

Rosenthal has a positive interpretation of the findings, inferring that the increase is a result of additional legislation governing concussions in student athletes, rather than more violence in sports. “The bottoms line is that rates have gone up,” Rosenthal stated. “We don’t know the exact reason.

This was an observational study, so I can’t say for sure, but I believe what is explaining the increase is the increased awareness, not that sports are more dangerous. It’s just that concussions are being recognized more, which is good news.”

Research focused on data from a sample of 100 U.S. high schools, which had to have at least one certified athletic trainers on staff. Research revealed that the concussion rate increased from 0.23 to 0.51 concussions for every 1,000 athletes exposed.

An athletic exposure is when an athlete participates in a game or practice. The study included football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, baseball, and softball in the sports analyzed. Of the 7 sports reviewed, more than 4,000 concussions occurred between 2005 and 2012.

A few of the sports stood out in the statistics, including football, boys’ basketball, wrestling and baseball, and girls’ softball. The study found that the highest rates of concussion were in high school football.

Others also agreed that the rise in concussions is due to increased injury awareness, including Steven Broglio, director of the Neurosport Research Lab at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and athletic trainer. “I’m not entirely surprised at this uptick,” said Broglio, who is also chair of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement on the management of sport-related concussion. He added that concussions are being recognized more frequently because of many factors, such as increased media coverage on sport-related injury, and position statements about concussion management from organizations like his own.

A recent study by researchers from the Children’s Hospital Colorado also confirms that concussion awareness has increased. Researchers studied the compliance of high school athletes who suffered from concussions, and if they properly followed return-to-play guidelines. The study revealed that, while only 80 percent of the athletes correctly followed safety guidelines in 2007, a total of 80 percent were compliant in 2013. The study’s discoveries were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Sports Medicine in New Orleans.

Currently, all 50 states have laws designed to protect athletes from returning to play too soon after concussion. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages those managing an athlete with a concussion to monitor physical and cognitive activities, take into consideration concussion history, and care for the athlete in an individualized manner. Symptoms should steadily decrease, before disappearing within 7 to 14 days.

For more information on concussion care and the return to play progression, consult the CDC’s International Concussion Consensus Guidelines.


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