The Good News About Increasing High School Concussion Rates

R. Robert Franks, DO, FAOASM October 22nd, 2014

If you’re a parent, it seems like your list of cares grows daily. With every stage in your child’s life, there comes new ways to possibly destroy their chances of a happy and successful future. You have to weigh issues such as private school vs. public school (or homeschool?), iPhone 5 vs. functional outdated phone (or no phone?), and storebrand food vs. organic (or gluten free?).

Added to that list of worries, there is an increasing paranoia about the dangers of high school athletics. High school sports have always involved some element of risk, but in recent years anxiety about a particular type of injury has been mounting - high school concussions. A high school concussion can expose your child to a lifetime of headaches, sleeping difficulties and mood alterations, not to mention even more severe effects should another concussion occur.
So, where is the good news about high school concussions that was promised? The good news is precisely that you are aware of the threat of high school concussions, and so increasingly, is our society.
High School Concussion Statistics
First, the scary stats (courtesy of research assembled at and
  • Concussion rates more than doubled among students age 8-19 participating in sports like basketball, soccer and football between 1997-2007, even as participation in those sports declined.
  • An estimated 136,000 to 300,000 high school concussions are reported per year. (American Journal of Sports Medicine)
  • From 2001 to 2009, the estimated number of sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injury visits to emergency departments increased 62%, (CDC)
Now some encouraging news (also courtesy of
  • A 2012 paper presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual meeting suggests that high schools with athletic trainers have concussion rates much higher than those that don't. (Science Daily)
  • The number of emergency department visits for sports-related traumatic brain injuries has risen over the past ten years, but the percentage of admissions has remained unchanged at about 10%. (Pediatrics)
  • About 30% of patients at two leading sports concussion clinics reported having previously suffered a concussion which went undiagnosed. This is down from the rate of nearly 50% reported in a 2004 study. (Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine)
What should you take away from these statistics? There is a strong case to be made that over the past decade, it is not high school concussions that have been increasing, but rather high school concussion awareness. Concussions are still just as dangerous, especially if they recur. But we are a far  from the days of telling our children to “shake it off” when they get hit, and that is a huge step in the right direction.

An Ounce of Prevention…
What are some ways to help your children steer clear of the threat of high school concussions? One option would be to wrap them in pillows and feed them meals through straws in locked padded rooms. But being aware that some element of risk is inherent to the high school experience, here are three suggestions.
1. Hold your school’s Athletic Department to a high standard.
Statistics support the fact that a proactive Athletics Department can highly reduce the risk of undiagnosed concussions and can take measures to prevent recurrence (such as not rushing athletes back onto the field after an incident).

2. Know the odds and make sure your children do as well.
In descending order football, boy’s ice hockey, women’s soccer and boy’s lacrosse have the highest rates of high school concussions. (American Journal of Sports Medicine) If your children are participating in these higher risk sports, make sure they are aware of the risks and know that “toughing out” the symptoms is not worth it.
3. Recognize the signs.
If your child and their school’s athletic department both miss the signs of concussion, make sure that you are able to recognize them. Early signs include - confusion, clumsiness, slowness of speech, personality change, and loss of memory. If you have reasonable cause to suspect a concussion, seek medical attention immediately!
High school concussions aren’t going away. But awareness campaigns have been paying off, and schools are better prepared to handle them than ever before. As a parent, you always have to be vigilant, but at least in this one area of your parental responsibilities, there is reason for encouragement..

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