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From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Rise in Emergency Department Visits for Sports Concussions Reflects Increased Awareness

Numbers have to go up before they start to come down, asserts study co-author and others

The number of sports and recreation-related emergency department (ED) visits by children and teens for traumatic brain injury (TBI) jumped over 60 percent from 2001 to 2009, says The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new study.1         

Overall, the activities associated with the greatest estimated number of TBI-related ED visits were bicycling, football, playground activities (especially for children aged 9 years and younger), basketball and soccer.  Seven out of ten visits were among males and among those aged 10 to 19 years.   For this age group, males most often sustained TBIs playing football or while bicycling, while soccer, basketball, bicycling and gymnastics led the list for females. 

Concussion awareness driving rise

Because the number of ED visits for TBIs resulting in hospitalization did not go up, Dr. Linda C. Degutis, director of the C.D.C.'s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, attributed the increase largely to  "a growing awareness among parents, coaches, and the public as a whole, about the need for individuals with a suspected TBI to be seen by a health care professional." 

Dr. Julie Gilchrist, one of the study's co-authors, viewed the increase positively, saying the study showed that the focus on concussions in recent years, and efforts to educate parents, coaches, and athletes about their dangers, is working.  "We knew the numbers would have to go up before they start to come down because awareness has to go up first," she told The New York Times.2

Her view was shared by Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and MomsTeam concussion expert emeritus.  "Some people will say that the numbers go up because the number of concussions is going up, but I don't believe that," he told the Times

Indeed, the numbers of diagnosed concussions may continue to go up for a while longer before they stabilize and start trending down because concussions continue to be subject to chronic under-reporting.  According to Canadian researchers who compared the number of likely concussions they counted while watching youth hockey games and practices with the number that were later reported, the actual number of concussions in collision sports such as football and hockey may be six or seven times higher than the number diagnosed.

"We are never going to get all of them, but we have to get a lot better," Cantu said, not only in assessing concussions on the sports sidelines. but in educating the kids themselves about the dangers of playing through symptoms and the importance of honest self-reporting.

For the most comprehensive and up-to-date concussion information for sports parents, visit MomsTeam's pioneering concussion center.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Nonfatal Traumatic Brain Injuries Related to Sports and Recreation Activities Among Persons Aged ≤ 19 Years -- United States, 2001-2009; 2011; 60(39):1337-1342 (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6039a1.htm?s_cid=mm6039a1_e&s...)(accessed October 7, 2011).

2. Lynn Zinser.  Report Indicates an Increase in Concussion Awareness. New York Times (October 6, 2011): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/07/sports/report-shows-rise-in-er-visits-... (accessed October 7, 2011)

Posted October 7, 2011