Concussion risk highest for high school athletes, says study

SHAWNEE, Kan. - As the father of a freshman playing varsity soccer, Mark Gettings thinks constantly about the risk of concussion his son faces every time he takes the field.

"That's the first thing that goes through your mind," Gettings said as he watched his son's match on Friday. "Is it a concussion? What's going on?"

Gettings' concerns are well-placed, according to a new study by the National Academy of Sciences, which shows high school athletes are twice as likely to report concussions than their college counterparts.

"The numbers are right. The question is why," Dr. Randy Goldstein, a physician and sports medicine expert from the KU Center for Sports Medicine, said. "And there are lots of reasons. One is the size difference of a freshman high school player versus a senior high school player."

Those developmental differences lessen in college and pro sports, even as the speed and violence of games like football increase.

As might be expected, the study showed football player sustained the most concussions, with lacrosse, wrestling and soccer (especially girls' soccer) all trailing.

Goldstein offered two other reasons why concussion reporting might be trending up among high school athletes: better testing and more regular reporting.

Concepts like "getting your bell rung" are out; mild traumatic brain injury diagnoses are in.

Soccer players are at risk not just from collisions, but from whiplash and even from heading the ball improperly, Goldstein said.

"We worry about head to head and head to ground contact, but concussions can happen with rotation and with whiplash, so it doesn't have to be a contact."

Teaching proper technique and monitoring symptoms closely, he said, are the best tools to cut down on concussions and their effects. Technology and helmets alone are not enough.

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