According to a just released study in the journal Pediatrics concussions among children playing sports appeared to have more than doubled from 1997-2007. The study, by researchers at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Brown University looked at emergency room visits for concussions for children ages 8 to 19 from 2001 to 2005. Of the approximately 502,000 ER visits for concussions, more than 252,000 were sports related. Among children ages 8 to 13, 58% of all concussions were sports related, compared with 46% among 14-to-19 year olds.
Little is known about the long-term consequences of sports related concussions in school-aged children because there isn’t a lot of data from studies that have mainly focused on collegiate and professional athletes. Researchers speculate that concussions in the still growing brains of children may produce more severe long-term developmental and cognitive problems than a similar injury to an adult. Signs of concussion include headache, nausea and vomiting. Doctors also advise parents and coaches to seek medical attention if “your child just doesn’t seem right.”1
The study also looked at concussions in children and compared them with participation rates in five organized team sports – baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey and soccer – from 1997 to 2007. During that decade, participation in those sports declined by about 13% (overall youth participation in sport is at an all time high also early sport specialization skews the numbers), but ER visits for children ages 8 to 13 doubled from about 3,800 to 7,800, and among children ages 14 to 19, visits tripled from about 7,000 to 22,000. These numbers probably underestimate the number of incidences because many concussions are never diagnosed or noticed from lack of noticeable symptoms.
Researchers aren’t sure of the reason behind the increases but theorize it may be due to better reporting of head injuries or that team sports have become more competitive. While I certainly believe the reporting/diagnosis is better than ever I don’t believe team sports are more competitive than they used to be. If you play sports you always want to win, that’s timeless.
However, I believe the increase could be due to the fact that young children aren’t as well prepared for the unexpected. Often times head injuries occur when an athlete is hit from the “blind-side” or is stuck in a bad position. That “sudden impact “ or jarring of the head when caught off guard doesn’t leave time to brace or react to what they should instinctively feel is coming.
The youth sport culture has gotten caught up in attempting to anoint athletes from a young age as the next “great one.” This has lead parents and coaches to push children into one-dimensional sporting experiences. Kids just don’t learn to develop instincts that protect them from the unexpected. If all you did, as a child was to play one sport 10-12 months out of the year at the expense of other sport and activities your foundation of skill and movement abilities would be under-developed. Kids will develop these protective instincts when they are “horsing” around playing games like tag, dodge ball or when they are sliding in the dirt or diving and rolling in the grass. Exposure to many activities and sports allow children to develop a warehouse of movement abilities that will carryover to their game of choice. Concussions aren’t merely the result of taking a hit, smacking into the boards or hitting the ground. They often occur because athletes put themselves in sticky situations due to a lack of coordination, balance, and general strength. The best way to avoid concussions is not to get one in the first place. The way to ensure your child stays healthy from head to toe is to have them experience as many games and activities as possible. Just when you least expect it that move they made on the basketball court just may carryover in helping them avoid that big hit on the football field.