National Study Finds 70 Percent Increase in Basketball-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries

Filed under: Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

Basketball related injuries up among children

Serious basketball-related injuries can be life-threatening. Credit: Getty Images

If your kid plays basketball, you're probably all too familiar with the sprains, strains, broken fingers and concussions that come with the territory -- and with the resultant trips to the emergency room.

More than 4 million basketball-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments from 1997-2007, among 5- to 19-year-olds, according to a study released today by the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The total number of injuries reported actually decreased 22 percent over the course of the 11-year study period; however, the average number of injuries remained high, with more than 375,000 young basketball players visiting the emergency room each year.

Yet, although the total rate of injury is decreasing, findings suggest that kids are being hurt more seriously now than before, senior study author Lara McKenzie, professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's, tells ParentDish.

"Traumatic brain injuries increased by 70 percent during the study period, and accounted for 2.6 percent of injuries documented in the study," she says.

More commonly known as a concussion, traumatic brain injury occurs when the head sustains a hard blow and the impact shakes the brain inside the skull, interrupting normal brain activity, according to AOL Health.

"Traumatic brain injuries can have long-term impacts on a young athlete's health, memory, learning and ultimately their survival," McKenzie explains.

The proportion of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) doubled for boys and tripled for girls over the course of the study, which could be due, in part, to the increase in the size of players, the level of competitiveness and the intensity of play in the girls' basketball game, McKenzie tells ParentDish.

But the actual number of TBIs may even be larger than estimated.

"Other studies have shown that most athletes don't recognize concussion symptoms or report them to trainers," McKenzie says, "and a lot of players continue to play even after a blow to the head that makes them dizzy."

Symptoms of traumatic brain injury can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include loss of consciousness, amnesia, confusion, dizziness and a change in personality, advises AOL Health.

McKenzie also notes that the current study may have underestimated the number of TBIs because it only includes injuries treated in hospital emergency departments, which is just one aspect in the spectrum of care.

The study, slated for publication in the October issue of Pediatrics, reports a number of other notable basketball injury-related findings:

  • Adolescents, 15 to 19 years old, accounted for the majority of patients treated.
  • Sprains and strains were the most common diagnoses, and the ankle was the most commonly injured body part -- though there was also a high incidence of finger-related injuries.
  • Fractures and dislocations accounted for a relatively large proportion (22 percent) of injuries.
  • More boys were injured than girls; boys were more likely to sustain lacerations and fractures or dislocations, while girls were more likely to sustain TBIs and to injure the knee.
  • Upper-extremity injuries -- specifically to the finger -- were more common in younger children, 5 to 10 years old, as were traumatic brain injuries.
  • Lower-extremity injuries -- specifically to the ankle -- were more common in older children, 15 to 19 years old, as were sprains, strains and lacerations.
Basketball is the most common youth team sport in the United States, with more than 550,000 boys and 450,000 girls participating in organized high school basketball alone during the 2006-2007 academic year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH).

The findings underscore the importance of addressing the problem of TBIs and how to manage them, and point to the fact that more work needs to be done in education, McKenzie tells ParentDish.

She recommends a free online training program called "Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports," which can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The program helps educate coaches, parents and athletes about how to recognize a concussion, what to do if one occurs and how to prevent them.

Other measures that should be undertaken to help keep young basketball players safe, McKenzie says, include:

  • Targeting individualized prevention efforts toward players that have a history of concussions.
  • Making sure kids use an age-appropriate basketball -- to help reduce finger injuries and concussions.
  • Discouraging rough play to help minimize collisions and resulting injuries.
"I should couch all of my comments under the umbrella of saying that physical activity and playing sports is great for kids, and we're not trying to discourage that at all," McKenzie says. "Any kind of physical activity has some inherent risk of injury, but we want to find a way to decrease the injuries that we see in this really popular sport."

Related: ER Visits for Concussions Soar Among Kid Athletes


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.