This week, a major study on concussions was released. It delivered some stunning numbers.
The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council called for a national system to track sports-related concussions, saying there are “big gaps” in what’s known about the risks of concussions in youth sports as well as limited statistical data. According to the IOM, among student-athletes 19 and younger, the rate of sports or recreation-related brain injuries has skyrocketed. In 2001, there were 150,000 U.S. kids 19 and younger treated in emergency rooms for concussions.
In 2009, it pegged the number at 250,000. Male athletes were most likely to suffer concussions in football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. For females, it was soccer, lacrosse and basketball. According to the IOM, those numbers may be low due to a “culture of resistance” to reporting injury and staying on the field.
The study also showed that the average high school football player is nearly twice as likely to suffer a brain injury as a college player. Why the disparity? The study says that high schools often have athletes of wildly different states of physical maturity – a 150-pound freshman trying to handle a 225-pound senior, for example – and the superior medical expertise that is often afforded athletes at the college level. And there was no evidence that better helmets can prevent brain injury, though the IOM stressed that properly fitted helmets, face masks and mouth guards should be used and can reduce the risk of other injures like skull fractures, bleeding inside the skull, and injuries to the eyes, face and mouth.
In North Carolina’s public schools, student-athletes are given extensive literature about concussions. In order to practice and play, both the athletes and their parents have to sign and return a form, saying they’ve read through the material that talks about symptoms and what to do if you think you have a concussion. If an athlete is diagnosed wth one, he or she cannot return to practice or games the same day and cannot come back until they’ve been cleared by a medical professional.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ officials place an emphasis on awareness, system athletics director Sue Doran said. CMS has certified trainers in all 19 high schools, aided by a partnership with Carolinas Healthcare, which has employees in 16 of the 19 schools, with plans to cover the final three schools in the 2014-15 school year.
Charlotte Latin coach Larry McNulty said his school invested in some state-of-the-art helmets two years ago and also all but eliminated live tackling in practice. This has led, he said, to a significant reduction in concussions and players with concussion-like symptoms. The Hawks, he said, focus on teaching form tackling, trying to avoid having athletes lead with the head.
“The concussion issue is troublesome. It’s not something to be messed with,” McNulty said. “It’s certainly an issue that troubles all football coaches. I think people are being scared away from the sport because of it.”