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Concussions in Young Athletes Are Rising Concern

Posted on October 24, 2012

YouthFootball

Photo by Stuart Seeger, used under Creative Commons License.

In the past month, several national newspapers have run articles documenting the concerns of parents, coaches and doctors regarding the potential harm of multiple concussions sustained by children playing football and other school sports. A front page article in the New York Times on October 23 describes a Massachusetts pee wee football game in which five children sustained concussions, leading to suspensions for the coaches and referees involved. NPR documented the concerns of parents whose children, all between 6 and 8, play in a pee wee league in Texas and how leagues are writing policies aimed at reducing the risks associated with football. The LA Times describes new laws in place to prevent permanent brain injuries to student athletes who sustain concussions. In a recent editorial, Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon at Boston University and author of an upcoming book on the impact of concussions on children, describes the changes that could be made to prevent long term harm, including prohibiting tackle football before age 14 and modifying game rules to account for growing brains and bodies.

Awareness of the potential long-term effects of multiple concussions has been increasing since the deaths of several former professional athletes in 2009 were attributed to chronic traumatic encephaly (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that results from repetitive traumatic head injuries. Individuals with CTE show symptoms similar to Parkinson’s as well as psychosis, depression and dementia. Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephaly was founded in 2008 to research the condition. The Sports Legacy Institute, which partnered with Boston University to found the Center, provides education on reducing the risk of brain injury in all athletes.

Football is not the only sport that has received attention for its potential danger. A recent NPR article highlighted the dangers of increasingly acrobatic cheerleading moves. Because it is not recognized by Title IX as a sport, cheerleading does not have the same rules and regulations as recognized high school sports, putting students in danger of practicing high risk moves without appropriate coaching or materials. Cantu’s editorial highlighted changes that could reduce the risk of head injuries in soccer, ice hockey, softball, baseball, lacrosse and field hockey.

On January 24, 2013, Schubert Center Faculty Associates Susanna Briskin, MD, and Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD, will be giving a talk titled “Lessons from the Playing Field: The Impact and Scope of Pediatric Sports Injuries” as part of the Schubert Center Conversation series. Both Briskin and Weiss Kelly currently practice in the Pediatric Sports Medicine Department of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center. Briskin also recently co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for home trampoline use. Learn more about Briskin and Weiss Kelly’s upcoming talk.