If your teenager plays contact sports or engages in other activities in San Clemente that increases his or her risk of a concussion, is it better to avoid these sports altogether? Do the benefits of team sports and individual recreational activities outweigh the potential harms associated with a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI)? According to a recent report from NPR, teens may be sustaining concussions at a higher rate than most parents would like to believe. The report cites a research letter that was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA, which indicates that “approximately 20 percent of teens . . . have been diagnosed with at least one concussion.”
What is causing teen concussions at such a high rate? What steps can parents take to reduce the risk of a TBI altogether, and to ensure that their child heals properly after sustaining a head trauma?
High School Students Surveyed About History of Head Injuries
The recent research letter in JAMA examined questionnaire responses from Monitoring the Future (MTF), an annual study run by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. It surveys high school students from states across the country “about their behaviors and attitudes.” In total, the authors of the letter in JAMA looked at approximately 13,000 questionnaire responses in crafting their letter.
One of those authors, Philip Veliz, asked that the survey pose a new question to students completing the survey for the 2016 year: Have you ever had a concussion? As Veliz explains, simply knowing the rate of concussion among teenagers can help us to understand “prevalence rates and factors that correlate with the injury.” The MTF survey gathered information from teens in a relatively broad age range, from grades eight through twelve (in other words, kid aged 13 through 18). About 50% of the students were female, 47% were white, 19% were Hispanic, and 13% were Black.
Teens Who Play Contact Sports Have High Rates of Concussion
When teens sustain head injuries while playing contact sports, relatively few seek treatment in an emergency department. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only about 4-5% of teens who suffer head injuries go to an emergency room. Some visit their family doctors instead, and some simply do not seek treatment at all. Previous surveys have reported that around 25% of all adults have sustained at least one concussion in their lifetimes. Based on the results of the current survey, it looks as though a large number of those concussions occur during the young adults years.
In most cases of teen concussions, the head injuries occurred during contact sports. The authors of the research letter noted higher rates of concussions among older white male teens, but more generally, they tended to see concussion rates spike for those who played the following sports:
- Ice hockey; and
After a teen sustains a concussion, it is extremely important to seek medical attention and to follow a physician’s instructions for proper healing. Can parents also prevent concussions? The results of the survey suggest that contact sports simply may not be safe for teens, especially when so many concussions occur. At the same time, the survey does rely on students’ responses (as opposed to official medical documents). As such, the actual rate of concussion could be lower or even higher, depending upon students who misidentified injuries as well as students who sustained concussions but did not seek medical treatment.
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(image courtesy of Joao Victor Xavier)