Recent reports have indicated that concussion rates in young athletes are on the rise. However, many scholars are concerned that we may not be taking the outcomes of head injury seriously enough.
By reviewing the national databases of emergency department visits, Dr. Lisa Bakhos and colleagues found that there were 502,000 emergency visits for concussion in children aged 8 to 19 years from 2001 to 2005. Nearly half of all these visits were sports-related and approximately 95,000 of these cases were caused by organized team sports, such as football, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Bakhos and other researchers from Hasbro Children’s Hospital also found that organized team sport-related concussions increased by over 200% in the 14- to 19-year-old age group, while participation in sports decreased by 13% over the period. With total participation declining, the increasing number of sport-related concussions might be explained by the elevated competitiveness and increasing intensity in youth sports—especially in ice hockey and football.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics by Carol DeMatteo, an occupational therapist and associate clinical professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, found that children diagnosed with a concussion spent fewer days in the hospital and returned to school twice as soon as those who just had head injuries that were not diagnosed as a concussion. A concussion seems less alarming than mild brain injury because it does not have structural brain damage and the symptoms normally disappear. Without knowing that concussion was the cause, though, these children were put at a greater risk for secondary injury or poor academic performance. Since there are no universal guidelines for concussion diagnosis, DeMatteo suggested that using the term “mild traumatic brain injury” instead of “concussion” will help people take the injury more seriously.
Dr. James Linakis, an associate professor at Brown University Medical School, comments that concussions at younger ages can produce more severe long term neurologic effects, such as cognitive disturbances and disturbed skill acquisition. With an increasing incidence of sport-related concussions, a conservative and comprehensive concussion management guideline for medical personnel, coaches, and young sport participants is necessary.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) published a guideline on sports concussion management in 1997 which is currently being updated. Members of the AAN have extensive experience in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Dr. Jeffrey Kutch, chair of the AAN’s Sports Neurology Section, said that “We owe it to athletes to advocate for policy measures that promote high quality, safe care for those participating in contact sports.”
Indeed, scholars and policy makers should make efforts to improve education in sports-related concussion so that all coaches, trainers, parents, and young athletes are aware of the significance of this type of injury.
Mr. Li is a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He previously worked as a leisure management instructor at Leader University in Taiwan. He has a master’s degree from the University of New Orleans and a bachelor’s degree from Taiwan’s National College of Physical Education and Sports.