A recent survey conducted by Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix found tremendous concern among parents about concussions in youth and high school sports. They found only 65 percent of parents will allow their children to play contact sports because of fears of concussions.
Athletic officials at the Parker Unified School District said they are also concerned about concussions, and have taken steps to improve training to decrease the chance of them happening. They also praised the Arizona Interscholastic Association for their education efforts on concussions, and for rule changes that will cut down the risk and make sure those athletes who sustain concussions will get the treatment they need.
What is a concussion?
According to the Centers for Disease Control: “A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.”
The symptoms of a concussion may vary, and they could show up immediately, or they may not show up until sometime later. They can include dizziness, difficult with vision, disorientation, sluggish behavior, and a difficulty in understanding what others are saying. You can find a listing of many of the symptoms at the CDC’s website, cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion.
Which sports have the most concussions?
A 2015 study by Dr. Wellington Hsu of Northwestern University found that soccer had higher rates of concussions than football, and that girls’ soccer had higher rates than boys’ soccer. As reported in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Hsu found that, in the 2014-15 school year, girls’ soccer had a higher rate of concussions that any other youth sport.
Medical experts and others have known about concussions in soccer for some time. Some of them got together for a conference on the subject in October 2001 in Washington, D.C. Neuropsychologist Dr. Ruben Echemendia reported his study of college athletes found 40 percent of soccer players had at least one concussion before attending college, as compared with 30 percent of football players.
At the same conference, Dr. Donald Kirkendall said soccer concussions are often associated with “heading” the ball, but added players have usually prepared themselves prior to contact, so heading does not produce a lot of concussions. He said it’s more likely concussions are caused by falls or players colliding with each other.
In 2015, a team led by Paul Ronksley of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, examined concussion statistics from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. They found an average of one concussion for every 67 hours of practice and competition. As reported by the British news service Reuters, they found rugby had the highest rate of concussions, followed by ice hockey and then American football. At the low end for rates of concussions were volleyball, baseball and cheerleading.
One sport that’s growing in Arizona that contributes to the youth sports concussion rate is ice hockey. The sport now has 4,500 players, 800 of them girls. In a 2018 report from KTAR Radio, 9.3 percent of youth hockey players sustained a concussion in 2016. They added that 12- to 14-year-olds are twice as likely to sustain a concussion as older players.
“Hockey involves collisions,” said Dr. Javier Cardenas of Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. “That leads to injuries.”
What’s being done about concussions?
Officials in the Parker Unified School District said measures have been taken and are being taken to reduce the number of concussions and treat those that occur. Parker High Athletic Director Dan Maya praised the Arizona Interscholastic Association for being proactive when it came to getting information out regarding concussions. He said coaches and athletes are getting more and more educated about concussions.
“The AIA has been very proactive,” he said. “If you want to change anything, education is the way to do it.”
All high school athletes are required to take the online Brainbook concussion education course from Barrow Neurological Institute. This was developed in 2011 specifically for high school athletes. It helps them to better understand what a concussion is, how to recognize one, and how to respond to it. A total of 150,000 athletes from around the state take the course every year.
In a poll for BNI of 304 high school students in Arizona, 89 percent said they would report a classmate they believed had a concussion.
Parker School Superintendent Brad Sale said they concussion protocols in place at all sporting events. An athlete who’s believed to have a concussion is pulled from the game or athletic event. He or she must be examined by a doctor, and that doctor must clear them before they will be allowed to return to play.
Sale said the Parker Schools are fortunate to have Dr. Joseph Golding as a volunteer at many sporting events as he is trained to recognize and respond to injuries like concussions.
Parker High Football Coach Jeston Lotts said concussions are a major concern. Football is a sport that is very physical and involves a lot of contact. He said that players are taught how to play in ways that will minimize hits to the head, like not leading with the head.
Beyond coaching, Lotts said improvements to equipment have been made over the years, and these have contributed to increasing the safety in football.
“Football’s safer now than it’s ever been,” he said.
One of the results of this new awareness of concussions has been the number of concussions being reported has increased. In 2016, Cardenas said this was a good thing as it showed athletes and coaches were taking them more seriously. In the past, many concussions were not reported.
Cardenas said all the education about concussions has produced results. Among other things, it’s now recognized someone does not need to lose consciousness for a concussion to have occurred.
“Ninety percent of concussions occur without a loss of consciousness,” he said.
Cardenas told Cronkite News Service in 2016 that they will continue their initiatives to inform and educate athletes and coaches about concussions.
“We will continue our programs to make sure that all of our Arizona athletes can have healthy and safe lives,” he said.