This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 21, 2014.
Concussion rates for American high school athletes more than doubled from 2005 to 2012, according to Ohio State University researchers. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the scientists don’t think this means sports are becoming less safe. Rather, heightened public awareness may mean concussions are reported more than they used to be.
“It’s scary to consider these numbers because at first glance it looks like sports are getting more dangerous and athletes are getting injured more often,” Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, lead author of the study, which appeared last month in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, said in a statement. “This study is observational, so it doesn’t offer any proof about why the rates are going up. But I think in reality it’s showing that concussions that were occurring before are now being diagnosed more consistently – which is important.”
The researchers analyzed seven years of data from 100 high schools nationwide. The schools are part of the High School Reporting Information Online program, which monitors teen sports injuries. Scientists noticed concussion rates especially jumped after the 2008-09 school year, which was when states began passing laws requiring concussed athletes to sit out until a doctor approved their return to sports.
California passed such a law for high school athletes in 2011, and in 2012 legislators passed another one mandating that coaches be trained to recognize concussion symptoms. As The Chronicle previously reported, headaches are the most common concussion symptom for both teen boys and girls, but other symptoms vary by gender.
Here are the numbers:
The number of concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures in 2012. That’s more than double the 0.23 rate in 2005. An exposure is one athlete participating in one competition or practice.
The number of sports Ohio State researchers analyzed in this study: boys’ football, soccer, basketball, wrestling and baseball, and girls’ soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.
The total number of concussions high school athletes suffered from 2005 to ’12 at the 100 schools in the study.
The percentage of all high school sports concussions that happen in football, according to a separate 2012 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Girls’ soccer came in second at 8.2 percent, followed by boys’ wrestling and girls’ basketball.