As a result of gaping holes in what is known about the actual incidence of concussions in young athletes and the effects of these traumatic brain injuries, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council are calling for a national system to track sports-related concussions in children and adolescents aged 19 years and younger.
In a report called “Sports-Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture,” the researchers say that although it is unclear how many children and teenagers suffer concussions, largely because many go undiagnosed, nearly 250,000 young people aged 19 years and younger were treated in emergency departments for concussions and other sports-related brain injuries in 2009, which is up from 150,000 in 2001.
Girls may be at particularly high risk. The report finds that young women and girls have a higher rate of concussions than boys in the sports they both play, including soccer and basketball. Although the rate of concussions in cheerleading remains low compared with that in other sports, it is increasing faster than the rate for any other sport played by young women at the high school or college level—at a rate of 26% each year over the decade from 1998 to 2008.
For boys and young men in high school and college, rates of concussion are highest for football, followed by ice hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling. For girls and young women, rates are highest for soccer, lacrosse, and then basketball. However, at the college level, women’s ice hockey has one of the highest reported rates of concussion.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a clinical report about why it may be necessary for students recovering from concussion to take a break from, or to make alterations in, the learning environment, and that pediatricians may be integral in requesting such changes. For example, children may have difficulty learning new tasks or remembering previously learned ones. Bright lights, screens, and noisy hallways or cafeterias may pose problems. These students may require a shortened school day, a reduced workload, or more time to complete tasks or tests.