Approximately 40% of emergency department visits for sports-related concussions in young athletes occurred in children aged 8-13 years, based on data from concussion-related ED visits in the United States between 2001 and 2005, according to a study published online Aug. 30 in Pediatrics.
There are two main concerns about sports-related concussion in younger children, compared with college athletes and adults, lead study author Dr. Lisa Bakhos of Brown University, Providence, R.I., said in an interview.
“First, many parents, coaches, teachers, and other adults feel that, because these athletes are so young, they could not possibly get seriously hurt. As we have seen time and time again, this is of course not the case,” she said.
“Also, a few good studies have shown that head injury in younger children can have more long-term effects, as you are essentially damaging a developing brain,” she explained. In addition, more data have surfaced about cognitive deficits in older children after concussion, she said, “which leads to conjecture that younger children would suffer the same, if not more, deficits long term.” However, the link between sports-related concussion and cognitive deficits needs further study, she added.
To get a better picture of the scope of sports-related concussion in young athletes, Dr. Bakhos and colleagues reviewed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) from 1997 through 2007, and from the NEISS All Injury Program from 2001 through 2005. The NEISS allows researchers to investigate injury- and product-related ED visits (Pediatrics 2010 Aug. 30 [doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3101]).
Between 2001 and 2005, approximately half of all ED visits for concussion across older and younger age groups were related to sports, including 58% visits in children aged 8-13 years and 46% of visits in those aged 14-19 years. Put another way, approximately 4 in 1,000 children aged 8-13 years and 6 in 1,000 of those aged 14-19 years went to the ED for a sports-related concussion.
During the 10-year period from 1997 through 2007, ED visits for the most popular organized team sports – football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, and baseball – doubled in 8- to 13-year-olds and increased by more than 200% in 14- to 19-year-olds.
“The take-home message for pediatricians is take concussion seriously even in the very young athlete,” said Dr. Bakhos. “Children with concussion should be followed just as closely as a child with a sprained ankle or a broken bone. Return-to-play guidelines should be followed closely and stressed to parents,” she said.
“We as pediatricians should also stress to parents the importance of concussion prevention in sport as well, mostly the use of helmets at all times,” she emphasized.
The study was limited by the exclusion of sports-related concussions treated in non-ED settings, and by the underreporting of sports-related concussions by young athletes, their parents, and their coaches, the researchers noted.
But the rise in sports-related concussions in younger and older children suggests the need for more research and guidance in preventing and treating these injuries, they added.
The researchers said that they had no financial conflicts to disclose.