The rate of concussions in high school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
That increase isn’t necessarily due to the fact that more student athletes are being injured, but is likely due to an increase in awareness and education about concussions.
“I believe what is explaining the increase is the increased awareness, not that sports are more dangerous,” said lead researcher Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ohio State University. “It’s just that the concussions are being recognized more, which is good news.”
The education about concussions isn’t simply about awareness and detection, but also about prevention.
“Concussion prevention comes down to a few different things,” said Dr. Vernon Williams of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology. “From sport-specific technique to wearing proper equipment and strengthening the neck, there are a number of steps athletes, parents, and coaches can take to help prevent the occurrence of a sports concussion.”
Dr. Williams offers these tips for concussion prevention in the student athlete:
• Avoid collisions — Collision sports like football, wrestling, and have some of the highest concussion rates in young athletes. Teaching athletes proper technique to avoid collisions with the head can help reduce the likelihood of concussions in these sports. Tackling technique, keeping the head up, not leading with the head and other technique-related education is important for student athletes.
• Wear properly fitting headgear — A properly fitting helmet worn in the right position can also help prevent concussions. There is even some emerging data from the University of West Virginia that suggests some helmet types and brands better protect against consussions than others.
• Focus on strengthening the neck — Athletes who have strong necks have some protective benefit because a strong neck stabilizes the head and spine better, is less prone to forces of impact, and therefore less prone to concussions. Isometric neck strengthening, particularly in football, soccer, and other collisions sports can help reduce an athlete’s risk of concussion for both boys and girls.
• Stay hydrated — Hydration is often overlooked when it comes to concussions, but it is another important factor to consider. Dehydration causes significant changes in mental function and reaction time, thus putting an athlete at a greater risk of injury or concussion. Even minimal dehydration can increase an athlete’s concussion risk.
• Train the brain — Training the brain to improve vision, balance, reaction time, and speed of mental processing allows an athlete to better protect him or herself, therefore reducing risk of concussion.
In addition to these tips, Dr. Williams stresses the importance of removing an athlete suspected of suffering a concussion from play immediately and not allowing the athlete to return to play until the brain is healed. Second concussions most often occur within 10 days of the first concussion. When an athlete is returned to play too soon, he or she is at increased vulnerability of suffering a second concussion because the brain hasn’t regained its function and speed of mental processing.
Click here to watch a discussion on concussions in sports with Dr. Vernon Williams, Director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine.
To learn more about concussions, including sports concussions, prevention, treatment and symptoms of concussions, visit the Centers for Disease Control page on Traumatic Brain Injury.