WASHINGTON (AP) - Is peewee football too early to wonder about concussions?
Maybe not: A major report says far too little is known about the risks in
youth sports, especially for athletes who suit up before high school.
And it’s not just a question for football. The Institute of Medicine found
no one knows how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions or which
sports have the highest rates. Nor is it clear if better headgear ever will
The IOM and National Research Council on Wednesday called for a national
system to track sports-related concussions and start answering those
Despite a decade of increasing awareness of the seriousness of concussions,
the panel found young athletes still face a “culture of resistance” to
reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it’s healed.
“Concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously. If an athlete has
a torn ACL on the field, you don’t expect him to tape it up and play,” said
IOM committee chairman Dr. Robert Graham, who directs the Aligning Forces
for Quality national program office at George Washington University.
Reports of sports concussions are on the rise, amid headlines about former
professional players who suffered long-term impairment after repeated blows.
Recent guidelines make clear that anyone suspected of having a concussion
should be taken out of play immediately and not allowed back until cleared
by a trained professional.
Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community
sports, it’s not clear how many suffer concussions, in part because many go
But Wednesday’s report said among people 19 and younger, 250,000 were
treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or
recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001. Rates
vary by sport.
For male athletes in high school and college, concussion rates are highest
for football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. For females, soccer,
lacrosse and basketball head the list. Women’s ice hockey has one of the
highest reported concussion rates at the college level.
But there’s no similar data to know how often younger children get
concussions, whether on school teams or in community leagues, the IOM panel
“One thing that parents question is, ‘Well, should I let my son or daughter
play this sport they’re asking me to play?’” said sports injury specialist
Dawn Comstock of the University of Colorado, who reviewed the report. “If we
don’t have that type of data on the national level, it’s very difficult” to
Could safety gear prevent kids’ concussions?
Some equipment ads make that claim. But there’s little scientific evidence
that current sports helmet designs or other gear, such as face masks or
headbands for soccer, really reduce the risk, the panel cautioned.
Still, it stressed that youngsters should wear helmets and other
sport-appropriate safety gear, because they guard against other injuries,
including skull fractures and face injuries.
“Parents deserve to know how safe their children’s safety equipment really
is,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is pushing legislation to curb false
advertising and encourage improvements to sports equipment standards.
The report found that every state except Mississippi has passed a concussion
law since Washington started the trend in 2009, prompted by a 13-year-old
who suffered permanent disability after returning to a football game despite
The laws address such things as criteria for removal from play and standards
for return-to-play decisions, but the report said most are in the early
stages of being implemented.
It’s not always easy to spot a concussion - symptoms might not be obvious
right away - yet most young athletes practice and play without routine
access to a professional trained to check them, the panel said. That can
leave the decision to bench players up to coaches and parents.
That’s especially true before high school and in community leagues, said
Tamara Valovich McLeod with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association,
which long has pushed for concussion education.
Without training, people may not realize you can have a concussion without
losing consciousness, or that you can still have symptoms despite a clean CT
scan, she said.
Typically, youth athletes recover from a concussion within two weeks. But in
10 percent to 20 percent of cases, symptoms can persist for weeks, months,
occasionally even longer, the report found. A second blow before full
recovery is especially dangerous.
Nor is the concern only about physical activity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics this week said teachers may need to ease
students back into learning after a concussion.
There’s increasing evidence that too much mental activity can prolong
recovery, too. Sensitivity to light, headaches or memory difficulties may
require breaks or extra time on assignments when the student returns to
class, the pediatricians’ policy says.
The IOM report also said:
-Youths who’ve already had a concussion are at higher risk for subsequent
-Calls for a “hit count” to limit the number of head impacts in a week or a
season make sense, but there’s no evidence to say what that number should
-Sports officials should examine if there are age-specific rules to make
play safer, such as Canadian youth hockey’s no-checking rule for the
But the report shouldn’t scare parents into pulling their kids out of
sports, injury expert Comstock stressed. “The positives of sports as a
physical activity still far outweigh the negatives,” she said. “We just need
to make it as safe as possible.”