Lately, there has been a lot of focus on head injuries and concussions. From Trent Green's possible season ending concussion, to local news stories reporting on injuries in high school football and girls soccer, concussion knowledge is increasing. The NCAA surveillance showed that concussion rates have increased around seven percent annually since 1989. This increase reflects improvements in identification of injuries in athletes. A concussion occurs when the head is hit so hard that the brain knocks against the skull causing a tearing of nerve fibers. The short-term effects include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, memory loss and nausea.
But, concussions can be far more serious than just a headache. Young athletes with at least one concussion performed significantly worse on learning and memory tests than their teammates with no concussions. According to a New York Times report, at least 50 high school or youth football players have died in the past ten years from sports-related head injuries.
The prominence of concussions in NFL athletes like Steve Young and now Trent Green, has led the public to believe that football has the highest concussion rate, but this is not true. In a study of Concussion Incidence, ice hockey had the highest rate of concussions among high school males. The lowest incidence was men's high school soccer.
A more specific study of youth ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey, showed that from 1990 to 2003 an estimated three percent of all injuries were concussions. Younger players, age two to nine were more likely to sustain a head injury but the study also found that as the amount of protective gear increases with age the head injury rates increase. This conclusion is supported by the finding that ice hockey players sustained more head injuries than lacrosse and field hockey players, who wear less protective gear. But sometimes less protective gear can mean a greater increase in concussion rates. In rugby, which has no protective equipment and a lot of contact, eleven percent of all injuries were head injuries. And as in football, players 18 years and younger sustained more concussions than adults. As mentioned previously, the higher concussion rate for children and teens in any sport can be attributed to brain development and a lack of athletic trainers to recognize possible head trauma.
While head injuries like concussions are the most serious sports-related injuries, they are not the most prevalent. In 2005, 58 percent of high school sports injuries were to the lower extremities: the knees, ankles and feet. Ankle injuries were the most common, resulting in 40 percent of all lower extremity injuries. Most ankle injuries are ligament sprains where the ligaments that connect bones and muscles are stretched to their limit or torn when the ankle makes an awkward movement.
Sprains/strains accounted for 21 percent of injured youth ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey players. According to one study, ankle injuries are the most common in both boys and girls basketball due to the quick changes in direction. Knee injuries are the second most common injury among athletes. Knee injuries account for 25 percent of all lower extremity injuries. Almost 13 percent of injuries sustained by female rugby players are to the knees. Sports rely heavily on the legs, therefore they are at a greater risk for injury.
Even though concussions are not the most common form of injury and the highest occurrence of concussions is not in football, football is still the rough and tough sport people claim it to be. Studies have shown football has the most injury occurrences of any sport. At the collegiate level 35.9 injuries occur for every 1,000 athletes exposed. Football has the most lower extremity injuries among all boys sports and the third most ankle specific injuries after boys and girls basketball. Football is still one of the roughest sports out there.
Study after study has found that sports-related injuries are very common and can be very serious. But, with the known health benefits of physical activity are people taking an even greater risk by not getting in the game at all?