The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making a push for education and public policy changes around sports-related brain injuries among the youth. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) sustained by people under age 19 from sports and recreation activities climbed 60% between 2001 to 2009. The CDC is hoping that efforts can be made to drive these numbers down, similar to a successful shift in public policy in the 1980s, which has brought down the number of brain injury deaths from adolescent car crashes (a 40% drop since 1980).
Football is a major contact sport, and lately, it’s been getting attention over the head injuries it’s caused. Suicides among former professional athletes and lawsuits against the National Football League are drawing scrutiny over the long-term effects of head injuries suffered on the field. Earlier this year, an advisory panel to U.S. policy makers (the Institute of Medicine), launched an investigation into sports concussions for players from elementary school age through young adulthood.
Brain trauma is a complicated issue; the deaths it caused in 15 to 19 year olds have been cut in half from 1999 to 2010 (due largely to medical advances), but the emergency room trips for athletic injuries by the same age group have greatly increased, the CDC reports. And brain injuries don’t heal like broken bones; their effects are lasting and cumulative. A former Harvard University football player and professional wrestler (who now heads the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit group devoted to head injury awareness), Christopher Nowinski, says, “We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of the concussion issue. It was ignored for so long that we have a lot to catch up on.”
TBIs are caused by jolts or impacts to the head which disrupt normal brain function; concussions are the milder form of TBIs, and makeup 75% of TBI diagnoses—these are common injuries in football and lacrosse. More than 3,000 former players and their families have filed suits against the NFL, seeking damages for head injuries and arguing the league concealed data about the long-term dangers of repeated concussions. As a result, the NFL and other sports associations have begun education programs for coaches and players, on treating and preventing on-field trauma.
Including all causes, such as falls and assaults, at least 2.4 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths were related to a traumatic brain injury in 2009, the CDC said. Brain trauma cost an estimated $76.5 billion in direct U.S. medical expenditures and indirect costs such as lost wages and productivity.
In the general U.S. population, 35% of TBIs are caused by falls; children younger than 14 and adults older than 65 are most likely to sustain this sort of accident. Blunt impacts and motor vehicle crashes each account for 17% of TBIs.
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