According to a study published Monday in the pediatrics journal, 502,000 children and teens visited emergency departments for concussions between 2001 and 2005. Roughly half of those visits were for concussions related to sports and other recreational activities. This figure represents a greater than 100% increase for the 5 year period leading up to 2005.
In light of the fact that Children, like athletes in general are bigger, stronger, and faster than a decade ago and the increased awareness placed on concussions, this figure is not that surprising.
What is surprising is that much of the increase came from from middle-schoolers and even elementary school students who have flocked to play on elite travel teams and in competitive youth leagues across the country. The study found that 40% of the sports-related pediatric concussion patients seen in ERs were between the ages of 8 and 13. All this while participation in organized sports was declining.
So why are concussions soaring? The American Academy of Pediatrics updated "clinical report" underscores growing evidence that younger children's brains are not only more susceptible to injury, but those injuries may take longer to heal and can be more damaging than concussions in adolescents or adults.
A 2007 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested children and adults sustain as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions a year in the United States. But "data are significantly lacking about concussions in grade-school and middle-school athletes, which highlights the need for more research," wrote Drs. Mark E. Halstead and Kevin E. Walter on behalf of the academy's Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Giza said Pediatrics' review of clinical findings on concussions will help forge consensus among coaches, parents and physicians about what to do when a child is dazed after a rough tackle or knocks heads hard with a teammate in a lunge for the ball.
"There's sort of an old-school notion that a kid gets his or her bell rung and toughs it out and keeps participating and bounces back," Giza said. But with evidence piling up that concussions are especially dangerous for younger kids, coaches should take "a more conservative approach," he said.
The Rhode Island researchers added that parents, coaches and physicians need better guidelines for recognizing brain trauma in younger kids, determining when and how long to sideline them and finding ways to protect them from long-term harm.
In May 2009, the state of Washington was the first to pass legislation requiring that any student-athlete suspected of having a concussion be removed from the game and not return to play until cleared by a licensed medical professional. Several states, including California, have since adopted similar laws.