Despite widespread coverage, damage from concussions is underestimated and blows to the head suffered by young athletes often go unreported, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine released on Wednesday. In addition, football helmets fail to protect against concussions, the report found, although the committee, a group of pediatricians, educators, psychiatrists and engineers, recommended protective gear to prevent other injuries.
The number of athletes aged 19 and younger who were treated for concussions and other sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries rose from 150,000 in 2001 to a quarter million in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available. In college athletics, the rate of concussions in more than a dozen sports doubled between the school year that ended in 1989 and the one that ended in 2004.
The committee also found that young women and girls have a higher rate of concussions than boys in the sports they play, including soccer and basketball. And although the rate of concussions in cheerleading remain low compared to other sports, for example, the rate of concussions in the sport increased at a rate of 26 percent each year from 1998 to 2008. That marks a greater rate of increase than for any other sport played by young women at the high school and college levels.
While improved diagnosis may account for at least some of the higher concussion rates "there is probably also a difference in the competitiveness in children and their sports," said committee member Mayumi Prins, an associate professor in neurosurgery at the UCLA. "Children are being trained earlier in sports and they're focusing on a single sport rather than diversifying. In the female population we do see that the way girls play sports has changed in the last 10 years — they're more aggressive."
Without early diagnosis and proper treatment, teens and young kids are at greater risk of repeated concussions and potential long-term damage. One major factor keeping kids from getting treatment: many think it's their duty to keep mum about their symptoms,and get back in the game.
Image: Girl playing soccer, via Shutterstock