Hits and misses: Head injury risk for high school athletes

With football season well underway, fans everywhere have been treated with thrilling wins and crushing defeats, nerve-wracking plays and bone-shaking tackles. While it may be exciting for spectators, the risk of head and brain injury for the players increases with every blow to the head, especially for younger athletes.

Last Monday, a Seattle high school football player died after collapsing during a game the previous Friday. The autopsy report showed that he had died from blunt-force trauma to the head, resulting from a concussion the student suffered several weeks prior to the game. The student was reportedly cleared to play before any concussion protocol had taken place.

 In June of 2010, our NPCH Report found that parents were not well prepared for helping reduce their child’s risk of a head injury in school sports. More than half of parents surveyed did not know if their children’s school had a policy about returning to sports after a concussion. 62% of parents knew another parent who would have his or her child return to school sports too soon after a concussion.

In 2014 we did another NPCH Report on concussions, showing that parents felt more confident about concussion management after receiving some type of education on the subject, such as from a video or live presentation, as opposed to just signing a waiver form for their child.

Figure 1. Parent confidence in decision-making if child has a concussion by type of education

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There have been many suggestions to combat head injuries in contact sports, such as designing better and safer helmets and implementing the use of helmet sensors. On Monday, Time released an article in favor of tracking hit counts in football similar to the way pitches are counted in baseball as a way to safeguard the pitcher from injury. While hit counts might not be easy to do, it could be a step in the right direction to reduce the risk for all athletes.

What do you think?
Does your child’s school have policies in place for concussions? Will tracking hit counts make a difference in assessing the risk of head injury for athletes? Share your thoughts below in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter.