Protecting Young Athletes from Head Injuries

The National Football League (NFL) recently announced that the number of diagnosed concussions increased by almost 32 percent this past season. This comes as a surprise after the previous two years showed a decrease in reported concussions, since the enhanced concussion protocol was implemented following the 2012 season. During that season, there were 261 concussions reported.

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Protecting Young Athletes from Head Injuries

While it is natural for the NFL to be concerned about this increase in brain injuries, this news is causing concern among pediatricians and youth sports leagues. The concern with this is that young athletes may be at increased risk for repeated head trauma throughout their involvement in sports. Repeated head trauma can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

What is CTE?

There has been increased awareness about CTE as more former football players have been diagnosed with CTE. This degenerative brain disease can cause erratic behavior and depression. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition. While doctors can make a diagnosis of the condition and attempt to treat symptoms as they arise, CTE cannot be confirmed until after death when an autopsy has been performed.

Are Children at Risk?

Not only has there been an increase in concussions in the NFL, but also there has been a dramatic increase in concussions in children. Football is the most popular sport among children with 70 percent of all football players in the United States being under the age of 14. This sport also has a highest rate of injuries than any other sports. On average, a child between the ages of 9 and 12 will experience on average, 240 head impacts each season.

In Chicago and other cities in Illinois, it is required by law for all schools to cooperate with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) with creating guidelines to educate student athletes, their parents and their coaches about the dangers of concussions and head injuries. All schools are required to establish protocols that must be followed before allowing a student with a concussion to report to sports. An early return before fully recovering can lead to a catastrophic injury. Otherwise, they risk lawsuits involving personal injury attorneys representing injury victims.

Preventing Head Injuries

Concussions may be prevented or reduced by:

  • Wearing properly fitted helmets
  • Better monitoring of exposure to head impact
  • Enforcement of rules and any changes to rules
  • Waiting until children are older to play contact sports