Study: Concussion rate in high-school athletes more than doubled in seven-year period

May 6, 2014 by Emily Caldwell, The Ohio State University

Concussion rates in U.S. high-school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to a new national study using data on nine team sports.

Overall, the rate increased from .23 to .51 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures. An athlete exposure is defined as one athlete participating in one competition or practice.

The increase might appear to sound an alarm about safety, but the researchers suspect the upward trend in reported concussions reflects increased awareness – especially because the rates went up the most after the 2008-09 academic year.

Around that time, states began passing legislation promoting education about concussions and setting "return to play" guidelines for youth sports. Media coverage about head injuries in professional athletes has also increased over the last five to 10 years.

"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, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "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."

A is an injury to the brain that produces a transient loss of brain function with symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, headache and vision changes. Typically, nothing will be seen on imaging. Recovery usually occurs within a short time, but previous research has suggested that high-school athletes take longer to recover than do older athletes, and that even teenage athletes are at risk for repetitive head trauma.

The study is published online in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Rosenthal and colleagues analyzed data from the High School Reporting Information Online (HS RIO) sports injury surveillance system. The system contains data from a representative sample of 100 U.S. high schools that have at least one certified athletic trainer on staff.

Between 2005 and 2012, the system captured 4,024 concussions suffered by athletes in nine sports: boys football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys wrestling, boys baseball and girls softball.

Among the injuries tracked by HS RIO, reportable concussions were those that required medical attention and resulted in a restriction on athlete participation for one or more days after the day of the injury. Criteria were expanded in the 2007-08 school year to report concussions regardless of play restrictions. Concussions were diagnosed by the athletic trainers using their expertise, as well as any physician consultation.

The researchers calculated the rates by dividing the reported number of concussions by the total number of athlete exposures for each sport. In the time frame studied, HS RIO contained almost 11.3 million athlete exposures for the nine .

In addition to the overall doubling of concussion rates, the rates of these increased significantly in five sports: football, boys basketball, boys wrestling, boys baseball and girls softball. The other four sports showed upward trends in concussion rates, but based on statistical analysis, those increases could have occurred by chance. Football had the highest concussion rate among these nine sports.

Rosenthal, a physician 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."

Tracking these injury rates over time will enable clinicians, coaches, parents and athletes themselves to understand what risk factors influence changes in concussion rates and explore new ways to protect young athletes, he said. 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 , 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."

Explore further: More high school athletes complying with concussion guidelines, study finds

Related Stories

More high school athletes complying with concussion guidelines, study finds

April 10, 2014
(HealthDay)—High school athletes who suffer from concussions are complying more with the recommended return-to-play guidelines, according to new research.

Girls suffer worse concussions, study suggests

April 10, 2014
(HealthDay)—Girls who suffer a concussion may have more severe symptoms that last longer compared to boys, according to new research that builds on other studies finding gender differences.

NATA: Recommendations issued for sport concussion management

March 17, 2014
(HealthDay)—Recommendations have been developed for management of sport-related concussion. The recommendations have been published online March 7 in the Journal of Athletic Training as a National Athletic Trainers' Association ...

High Schools with athletic trainers have more diagnosed concussions, fewer overall injuries

October 22, 2012
High schools with athletic trainers have lower overall injury rates, according to a new study, "A Comparative Analysis of Injury Rates and Patterns Among Girls' Soccer and Basketball Players," presented Oct. 22 at the American ...

Patterns of shoulder injuries vary in high school sports

January 13, 2014
(HealthDay)—Rates and patterns of shoulder injuries vary by sport and gender in high school athletes, according to research published online Jan. 13 in Pediatrics.

Study raises concerns that teen athletes continue to play with concussion symptoms

May 6, 2013
Despite knowing the risk of serious injury from playing football with a concussion, half of high school football players would continue to play if they had a headache stemming from an injury sustained on the field.

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.