Troubling data about the threat of concussions among student athletes continues to emerge. Although fatalities appear to be on the decline, the number of actual visits to the emergency room is taking a decidedly different path.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that took a look at trends in traumatic brain injuries, with a special focus on the 19 and under demographic. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of such injuries that could be attributed to recreational or sporting activities increased by 60%. In 2009 alone, the number of emergency visits for brain trauma of all types (not only sports injuries) and among all demographics is conservatively estimated at 2.4 million.
All told, brain injuries and ensuing diagnoses, treatment, and missed work that came along with each added up to around $76.5 billion in expenses that year. The good news is that even though the number of actual visits to the emergency room was dramatically higher, fatalities from brain trauma among teens aged 15 to 19 was cut in half as of 2010.
In releasing these findings, the CDC is also offering up suggestions on how things might be made better. They point out that brain trauma fatalities from car crashes have been reduced by 40% and that initiatives geared toward highway safety might be used as a starting-off point for similar campaigns dedicated to sports safety.
Numerous entities are looking into what could be done about the issue. The NFL, itself the target of a 3,000 player lawsuit alleging that the game contributed to head injuries and that the league failed to make data about the danger readily available, is currently working with the CDC to expand education among coaches and players as to how to prevent and, if necessary, treat brain trauma on the field. Other professional sports organizations have joined in the endeavor, as has the NCAA.
At the same time, research currently ongoing from the Institute of Medicine seeks to determine the concussion risks posed to student athletes of all ages. The thought is that this information could be provided to government officials who would be able to enact standards or regulations in regards to youth sports.
Getting the number of concussions under control may prove to be the defining subject of youth sports in the coming years. Parents should insist that their student athlete’s school develop programs that can help reduce the risk of concussions. And when even that preventative effort fails, adequate medical treatment should be readily available so that the risk of complications from brain trauma is lessened.