Rise in Sports Concussions Prompts New Focus on Awareness and Treatment

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Friday, November 18, 2011
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Because headache is one of the most common symptoms of concussion, the American Headache Society is increasing its efforts to raise awareness among health care providers and migraine specialists about the increase in concussion among young people and those participating in sports. Concussions were a key focus on a seminar held during a recent AHS meeting.

According to data from the CDC, there was a 62% increase in the number of emergency room visits for brain injuries in children and adolescents between 2001 and 2009. A New York Times article from 2007 reported that 50 high school or younger football players have been killed or sustained serious head injuries on the field since 1997.

“Despite these skyrocketing and alarming statistics, this is a grossly underreported medical problem,” said David W. Dodick, MD, president of the AHS and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, in a statement. “Headache, especially persistent headache, is a primary symptom of traumatic brain injury. That means that it falls to athletic trainers, family doctors, neurologists, headache specialists and sports medicine experts to do a better job at diagnosing concussion and becoming leaders in the effort to keep injured young people off the playing fields after they sustain injury.”

Some of the increases in concussion data are the result of more participation in sports by young people, he said, “but the CDC also notes that more teens are being hurt in football, bicycling, basketball and soccer.”

“School sports organizations as well as the major national sports associations like the National Football League are extremely concerned about the growing number of concussions, but also about the dangerous practice of returning injured players prematurely to the field,” he said.

Medical evidence shows that athletes who return to play too soon are exposed to a greater risk of another concussion that may last longer and result in permanent neurological impairment including psychiatric disorders, dementia, stroke, and rarely, death.

What’s perhaps even more alarming is that even routine hits sustained by high school football and hockey players can result in brain injury, according to a study in which researchers looked brain images of athletes. Although the research featured only a small sample of athletes, the results nonetheless raise “powerful questions about the consequences of the mildest head injury among youths with developing brains,” according to lead author Jeffrey Bazarian, MD, MPH, of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

To access the study, which is published in the journal Magnetic Resonance Imaging, click here.

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