The growing epidemic of sports-related concussions hits as hard among young athletes as those playing sports professionally, according to a South Carolina-based study.
The rates of concussion symptoms among patients at hospitals and emergency departments in South Carolina more than doubled from 1998 through 2011, according to a study by Medical University of South Carolina researchers. And the highest rates, by far, were among ages 12-18.
The PBS Frontline documentary “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” this week shed new light on the depth of the problem of traumatic brain injuries in professional football.
The MUSC study, published last month in the Annals of Epidemiology, probably doesn’t include many people playing sports for a living. The researchers used a treasure trove of data available because state legislators in the 1990s allocated $1 million to set up a system to record data from hospitals and emergency rooms on head and spinal injuries, said Anbesaw Selassie, an associate professor of epidemiology at MUSC and one of the authors of the study.
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The system has collected data on 16,642 sports-related head injuries, which is just a portion of the total such injuries in the state because many athletes who are examined by family physicians or get no professional care at all aren’t included in the statistics.
The study found the rate of concussion in the state increased from 19.7 for every 100,000 people in 1998 to 45.6 in 2011. The increase is extraordinary and has been consistent, though some of the change could be from increased awareness and better reporting by physicians, researchers said.
“When I was in high school, I played soccer and I thought I just got dinged a couple of times,” said Dr. Jonathan Edwards, a neurologist and another of the MUSC researchers. “Those probably were concussions.”
Most schools in the state in recent years have installed concussion protocols to remove concussed players from practice or competition. The state legislature passed a law this year codifying concussion evaluation and treatment by high schools.
The focus on high schools is important. The MUSC study found the rate of sports-related concussion was 120.6 per 100,000 for ages 12-18. The rate dropped to 61 for ages 6-11 and 39.9 for ages 19-24.
About 38 percent of the total concussions in the study resulted from football collisions. Falls, usually related to skating or skateboarding, caused about 20 percent. Off-road vehicle accidents accounted for 16 percent.