Young football players are more likely to return to athletics less than a day after experiencing a concussion compared to those in high school or college-level athletics, according to a study published recently in JAMA Pediatrics.
Younger athletes are at higher risk for concussions with longer recovery times and more severe symptoms, but the new findings suggest this isn’t keeping players from returning to competition.
Only 10 percent of the youth players with concussions involved in the study returned to play within 24 hours. While this is a relatively small number, rates for high school and college players were one percent and five percent respectively. The comparison raises concern for concussion awareness and prevention efforts at the youngest ages of competition.
“Younger kids may struggle to describe” their symptoms, and health effects from concussions may not show up right away, explained Zachary Kerr, lead study author and director of the injury surveillance program at Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention, Inc.
For the study, the researchers collected injury data reported by athletic trainers during practices and games from 2012 through 2014. This included data from over 200 programs at youth, high school, and college level programs, including Pop Warner and USA Football Programs.
In total, the data identified 1,429 concussions over the course of three seasons.
College players were the most likely to experience concussions during games (averaging 4 concussions per 1,000 games), but high school players were more likely to experience more symptoms overall.
Most players of all ages reported experiencing dizziness, headaches, and loss of balance, but college players were more likely to experience severe symptoms like amnesia and disorientation. High school players, however, were most likely to experience noise sensitivity and excessive drowsiness. Insomnia was also common among high school and college athletes with concussions, but few youth players experienced this.
No matter the age, the majority of players were sidelined for more than a week. High schoolers were most likely to need more than a month to recover. About 20 percent of high school athletes were sidelined for a month or more, compared to 5 percent of college players and 10 percent of youth players.
USA Football spokesman Steve Alic said the study “underscores the importance of informing coaches and parents about concussion recognition and response.”
Both Alic and Pop Warner spokesman Brian Heffron noted they participate in the Heads Up football program which follows guidelines that say any player suspected of having a concussion should be evaluated immediately and not allowed back on the field until they are cleared. The Heads Up program also provides training to coaches and staff for identifying concussions as they happen.