Sports-Related Concussions Doubled Among Young Athletes

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According to the most recent figures, the number of young athletes in elementary and middle school sports treated for concussions has more than doubled. The findings have prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to publish an updated clinical report outlining concussion care in children and adolescents.

High School Athletes at Greatest Risk, but Injuries Among Younger Players Rising

The study, conducted by Dr. Lisa Bakhos of K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in New Jersey and published in the AAP journal Pediatrics, reviewed data for over 500,000 children and teens visiting emergency departments for concussions. About half of those injuries were caused during sports or other recreational activities.

The researchers found that the number of concussions for children ages 8 to 13 playing one of five team sports (football, basketball, soccer, baseball, and ice hockey) more than doubled from 3800 incidents in 1997 to almost 8000 in 2007. In teens (age 14 to 18), ER visits more than tripled with foot ball and hockey players sustaining the most injuries.

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Pediatric experts believe the actual number of sports-related injury is much higher. Parents sometimes wait to bring their children to a doctor the next day (the study only reviewed data from ERs) or they may not receive medical care at all following an incident.

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A 2007 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that as many as 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States.

Younger children’s brains are more susceptible to injury, the AAP states in the clinical report accompanying the study, and these injuries take longer to heal and can be more damaging that concussions in adults.

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The AAP strongly advises that children who receive a hard blow to the head during sports or play and exhibits signs of headache, nausea, dizziness, and lack of concentration, parents should seek medical attention immediately.

Parents and team coaches are also advised to allow children enough time to heal after the injury – and never return to play on the same day that the injury occurred. Research has established that athletes who go back to sports play before they have full recovered from a concussion are susceptible to second-impact syndrome, which can have fatal consequences.

For prevention, the AAP stresses that the risk of concussion can be reduced by wearing the proper equipment, teaching athletes the right techniques for contact plays and by educating everyone involved in school sports about the symptoms and risks of long-term complications with repeated head injuries.

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