As Coloradans gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, and maybe even play a friendly backyard football game, we are thankful to see a happy trend in youth sports: a reduction in traumatic brain injuries among high school athletes.
A new study co-authored by a University of Colorado researcher found that new laws meant to bolster reporting, monitoring and prevention of head-ringing accidents have made sports safer. Truly, this is good news in our sports-centric society, and we’re pleased to see that, for the most part, the culture change that has come along with concussion awareness hasn’t diminished the experience for players and their fans.
Over the last 10 years, most of the concussion-avoidance laws passed in Colorado and across the country require coaches in youth leagues to pull players from the action if they appear to have a concussion. What’s more, the injured player isn’t allowed back until cleared by a doctor. The goal is to prevent a second concussion, as repeated trauma greatly increases the damage.
Now that the new reporting requirements have had time to mature, rates for concussions stabilized, while recurring rates dropped. The study, published by the American Journal of Public Health, found that from 2005 through 2016, high school athletes reported an estimated 2.7 million concussion injuries. Eighty-nine percent of them were new injuries and 11 percent recurrent.
Unsurprisingly, football players are the most at risk. The study found that the rate of concussions among high school players was twice that of boys playing soccer.
Set aside football, and rates among girls and boys in other sports reveal that girls deal with concussions at higher rates, especially in soccer. The CU researcher, Dawn Comstock, said neck strength in girls could play a role. It’s also possible that girls are more comfortable reporting an injury or that coaches are more sensitive, which suggests that improvements in awareness among males are needed.
Comstock notes that fears of injury shouldn’t erode interest in youth sports.
“The long-term impact of inactivity,” she told Denver Post reporter John Ingold, “is worse than the smaller risk of serious injury.”
The states’ laws don’t prevent concussions outright, and no doubt the debate over whether more restrictions should be in place will continue. But the reporting allows researchers to access a national database full of potentially helpful details about when injuries occurred, the position the athlete was playing, weather and surface conditions.
We’re pleased to see Coloradans helping find solutions to the problem of youth concussions. Using technology developed locally, Jefferson County schools required football players to wear Guardian Caps in practice to reduce injury in recent years. The lightweight caps fit over helmets to provide extra protection. Other districts and some college-level teams also use the caps in practice and their use appears to be picking up.
Athletics should play a constructive role in young people’s lives, but competition can cloud judgment. Hard-hitting sports like football carry lots of inherent risk. Finding ways to make the game safer without diminishing its fun should easily be the goal.
We’re thankful to see that the concussion-awareness movement is helping thread that needle.