Concussions in Young Athletes

How many kids do you know who participate in high school sports? Approximately 7.7 million young high school athletes participate each year. One game in particular – football – is the most popularly played sport among boys, with participation in 2012 – 2013 of about 1.1 million athletes. We know football is one of the all American sports past times; we’ve all experienced the fanfare that surrounds the NFL games, especially the Super Bowl. But we have also seen the other side to the game such as new evidence highlighting the health effects from suffering multiple concussions. While playing football causes the majority of concussions among boys, keep in mind that concussions occur while playing many other sports too.

What is a concussion? According to the CDC, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a hit to the head from a fall, bump, jolt or blow. All concussions are considered serious, even if the athlete does not lose consciousness. Concussions can have different effects on individuals and at variable times after the traumatic brain injury (e.g. hours to days). Some common symptoms are headache, confusion, memory and attention problems, feeling sluggish or foggy, emotionally irritable, nausea/vomiting and double or blurry vision. Studies have shown that as the brain is healing, it’s more susceptible to recurrent concussion.

How many concussions occur in high school sports? A report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported a rate of approximately 11.2 concussions per 10,000 high school football athletes. To highlight the impact of sports-related concussions, about 250,000 concussions were reported to emergency rooms for athletes under the age of 19 in 2009, and increase from 150,000 in 2001. The table below shows the rates of concussion for various highschool sports.

Reported H.S. Concussion Rates
Rates per 10,000 athletic exposures, as reported by athletic trainers, by sport:
Sport                  Boys                Girls
Football             11.2                  NA
Lacrosse            6.9                   5.2
Soccer                4.2                   6.7
Wrestling          6.2                   NA
Basketball         2.8                   5.6
Field Hockey    NA                   4.2
Softball              NA                   1.6
Baseball             1.2                    NA

Source: National Academy of Sciences, Datalys Center (2010-12)

What should young athletes do if they have a concussion? The CDC states that the following should take place after a concussion: a) Concussion symptoms should be reported immediately to parents, coaches and/or athletic trainers. It is never good to hide concussion symptoms. b) Seek care from a health professional, because they are the only ones qualified to determine when it’s safe to return to play. c) Give your brain good rest periods from any further concussion during the healing stage. Recurrent concussion can cause long-term problems!

The CDC offers information on concussions in sports:



Andrew Gordon, MD
Resident in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, UIC

[edited by Susan Buchanan]


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