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Brain Injuries and Sports: Football Is Not the Only Problem


Football has attracted a lot of attention to traumatic brain injuries and public awareness of long-term dangers is starting to grow. But, as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to bow out of upcoming races demonstrates, brain injury risks are not limited to full-contact sports like football and hockey. Parents need to be aware of the risks in all sports. If a school or athletic staffers fail to recognize signs of a concussion, severe and long-lasting brain injuries can result.

Traumatic brain injuries account for numerous injuries. Some experts estimate that 1.5 million Americans sustain mild to moderate brain injuries annually. While many injuries go untreated, the consequences can include persistent headaches, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, and personality changes. Concerns are also mounting regarding more long-term dangers like dementia.

Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be sitting out two upcoming races and jeopardizing his chances of winning the Chase for the Spring Cup after suffering a concussion last week. His injury occurred in a 25-car racetrack wreck. Since Nascar races involve high speeds and frequent crashes, it is not surprising that brain injuries occur in this context.

But other sports dangers may be more surprising to many parents. For example, girls’ high school soccer has the highest rate of brain injuries of all sporting events. High school girls suffer brain injuries 0.63 times for every 1,000 exposures to the sport (like a practice or game). This is even higher than college football’s 0.61 rates. Basketball and wrestling are also surprisingly dangerous with rates of around 0.4 per 1,000 exposures.

Many school injuries can occur because athletic staffers do not appropriately respond to a situation. After a student suffers a concussion, it is important for the school to seek treatment right away and to take the player off of the field until a doctor clears him or her to return. If the school staff does not do this, the consequences can be severe for high school athletes.

Source: Forbes, “Dale Earnhardt Shows Concussions Not Just An NFL Problem,” Kurt Badenhausen, Oct. 11, 2012