It was only a matter of time before the concussion crisis in the NFL, followed by the concussion crisis in the NCAA, trickled down to youth sports. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released a 306-page report on Wednesday, detailing a “culture of resistance” when reporting concussions among youth athletes and stressing the need for more focused studies on concussions.
The report, focused on athletes aged 5-21, suggested creating a national surveillance system to reveal the number of sports-related concussions and to examine the changes in adolescent brains following concussions.
Notably, the committee also found little scientific evidence to support the idea that football helmets actually reduce the risk of concussions. However they did say that wearing properly fitted helmets and mouth guards does diminish the chances of other injuries, such as skull fractures and internal bleeding.
Another issue that the report highlighted was that there is no standard for diagnosing, addressing and properly treating concussions in youth sports. “An individualized treatment plan that includes physical and mental rest may be beneficial for recovery from a concussion, but current research does not indicate a standard or universal level and duration of rest needed,” the release said.
As noted in the tremendous PBS documentary League of Denial, some former NFL players' brains were found to have CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease some researchers have linked to dementia, depression and Alzheimer's.
The report said it was “unclear” whether “repetitive head impacts and multiple concussions sustained in youth lead to long-term neurodegenerative diseases,” such as CTE.
A few other notes:
The reported numbers of youths aged 19-and-under who were treated in emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries has increased from 150,000 in 2001 to 250,000 in 2009.
Football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling and soccer are associated with the highest number of TBIs among male high school and college athletes. For females, the sports were soccer, lacrosse and basketball and among just college athletes, women's ice hockey had the highest rate of reported concussions.
What to take away from the exhaustive report? More research is on the horizon regarding youth athletes, and, if nothing else, at least the concussion dialogue isn't going away.