Concussion Rates Double Among High School Athletes

Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of concussions suffered by high school athletes has more than doubled, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Lead researcher Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio State University, believes the increase is due to increased awareness of concussions, not increased danger in the world of sports.

During the course of the study, Rosenthal and his peers analyzed data from a sample of 100 high schools in the U.S. They compared data on concussions in 2005-2006 to concussions in 2011-2012 using the High School Reporting Information Online sports injury system. During the reporting period, more than 4,000 concussions occurred in seven sports: football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, baseball, and softball.

High school football generated the highest rates of concussion, and five sports saw increases that were statistically significant. Those include:

  • football
  • boys’ basketball
  • boys’ wrestling
  • boys’ baseball
  • softball

Experts estimate that nearly 3.8 million concussions occur every year in the U.S. during sports and recreational activities. Unfortunately, up to half of these incidents may go unreported. The athletes most prone to concussions are football, hockey, rugby, soccer, and basketball players.

Increased media coverage of the dangers of concussions has led to an unprecedented level of awareness for sports-related concussions. According to study from Children’s Hospital Colorado, 80 percent of athletes now follow return-to-play guidelines after sustaining a concussion, compared to about 50 percent of athletes back in 2007. All 50 states and Washington, D.C., now have laws on the books to protect athletes from returning to the field too soon after a concussion.

An athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion should immediately be removed from play and checked out by a qualified healthcare professional. A symptom checklist and cognitive evaluation should be performed, including orientation, new learning, concentration, and past and immediate memory. Athletes should never plan to return to play the same day he or she is diagnosed with a concussion, and the player should be monitored closely for decreasing physical or mental function.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine defines a concussion as a traumatically induced transient disturbance of brain function that involves a complex pathophysiologic process. It is a subset of mild traumatic brain injuries that finds itself at the less severe end of the brain injury spectrum.

Studies have shown that the concussed brain is less responsive to normal neural activation, and the brain can experience prolonged dysfunction if it is exposed to cognitive or physical activity before making a full recovery.

There are several risk factors for sports-related concussions, including:

  • A history of concussion is associated with a higher risk of sustaining another
  • More symptoms, more severe symptoms, or a longer period of symptoms after a concussion can indicate a prolonged recovery time
  • Concussions tend to be higher among women than men in sports with similar playing rules
  • The risk of concussion is increased in certain sports, positions, and playing styles
  • Younger athletes may take longer to recover and are more likely to sustain a concussion with a catastrophic injury

Mood disorders, learning disorders, migraine headaches, and attention deficit disorders tend to the complicate the diagnosis and management of a concussion.