A recent study published online in the American Journal of Sports Medicine shows that concussion rates in U.S. high-school athletes doubled between 2005 and 2012, but the findings may actually be good news according to the researchers.
The national study used data from nine different team sports and found that the rate of concussions rose from .23 to .51 brain injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures. An athlete exposure was defined for the survey as one athlete participating in one competition or practice.
Normally results with this large of an increase would be cause for alarm, but the researchers say they believe the upward trend in reported concussions is actually a reflection of the increased awareness of concussions and better enforcement of safety protocols. This is supported by the particularly stark increase found after the 2008-09 academic year.
Around that time period, many states began passing legislation governing how schools handle concussions within youth sports and establishing “return to play” guidelines. Supporting this legislative wave was increased media coverage regarding head injuries in professional athletics.
“It’s scary to consider these numbers because at first glance it looks like sports are getting more dangerous and athletes are getting injured more often,” said Joseph Rosenthal, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. “This study is observational so it doesn’t offer any proof about why the rates are going up. But I think in reality it’s showing that concussions that were occurring before are now being diagnosed more consistently – which is important.”
Rosenthal and his colleagues analyzed data from the High School Reporting Information Online (HS RIO) sports injury surveillance system. HS RIO contains data from a representative sample of 100 high schools with at least one certified athletic trainer on staff.
The system recorded 4,024 concussions suffered by athletes in nine sports between the years of 2005 and 2012, including boys football, boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys wrestling, boys baseball, and girls softball.
The concussions recorded on the system were those that required medical attention and resulted in a restriction on athlete participation for one or more days after the day of the injury. Criteria was expanded in the 2007-08 school year to include concussions regardless of play restrictions.