Although the latest information about concussions suffered by high school athletes is a mixed bag, a recent study shows increased awareness about traumatic brain injuries is fueling positive advances.
Statistics on concussion rates in high school sports from the 2013–14 to 2017–18 school years compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics show concussion rates in competition decreased among all but one of the sports studied—football, in which more concussions occur than any other sport. However, the study also noted that concussions suffered during football practices had decreased.
The findings, released in October 2019, were based on 9,542 reported concussions in 20 sports: boys football, wrestling, soccer, basketball, baseball, cross-country, ice hockey, lacrosse, swimming and diving, and track and field; girls volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball, cross-country, field hockey, lacrosse, swimming and diving, track and field; and coed cheerleading.
The survey found the three sports with the highest concussion rates were:
- Football, with 10.4 concussions per 10,000 exposures.
- Girls soccer, with 8.19 concussions per 10,000 exposures.
- Boys ice hockey, with 7.69 concussions per 10,000 exposures.
Concussions—a brain injury caused by a blow or jolt to the head—were defined by the study as occurring as a result of practice or competition, requiring medical attention, and being diagnosed as a concussion. Research has shown repeated blows to the head, such as collisions in football or heading a soccer ball, can lead to long-term memory loss and other serious health issues.
The study found that, among all sports, most concussions (63.7%) happened during competition. Only one sport, however, had a higher concussion rate during practices than competition: cheerleading. Authors of the study said that a potential reason for the higher practice concussion rate could be unfavorable training conditions such as hallways or asphalt. Some states don’t recognize cheerleading as a sport, they noted.
Researchers credited new legislation that came with heightened awareness about the seriousness of concussions with a sharply lower rate of recurrent concussions across all sports—8% of concussions reported were recurrent, a 40% drop.
As of 2015, all 50 states have adopted some type of concussion legislation requiring that an athlete be pulled from any competition if a concussion is suspected, and those athletes can’t return until being cleared by a physician.
Limitations of the study include data coming only from high schools that have athletic trainers, and the probability of underreported concussions, a common practice by athletes who don’t want to be taken off the field or court.
Any athlete who potentially suffers a concussion should be examined by a physician. The Medical Board of California licenses allopathic physicians and pediatricians in California, and the Osteopathic Medical Board licenses osteopathic physicians and surgeons. To check the status of a physician’s license, go to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ license search page at http://search.dca.ca.gov.