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Contact sports responsible for nearly half of kids’ traumatic brain injuries: study

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Atlanta — Almost half of the 283,000 pediatric sports- or recreation-related traumatic brain injuries treated each year in U.S. emergency rooms are caused by contact sports, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed 2010-2016 data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program, which included an estimated 2 million ER visits by children who suffered TBIs, including concussions, while participating in a sport or recreational activity.

TBIs sustained in contact sports made up about 45% of the ER visits. Boys playing contact sports accounted for an annual average of 99,784 ED visits – more than twice as many noncontact sports-related visits (44,848).

Other key findings:

  • Football, cycling, basketball, soccer and playground activities were linked to the most TBI-related ER visits.
  • Boys and children between the ages of 10 and 17 had the highest TBI rates.
  • For girls, the most common TBI-related ER visits were attributed to limited contact sports such as cheerleading, gymnastics or diving (27,343), slightly higher than contact sports (27,180).

TBI cases among boys dropped to 482.7 ER visits per 100,000 children in 2016 from 559.1 in 2012. The researchers speculate that the drop may be linked to prevention efforts such as safety-focused rule changes in contact sports, along with changes in care-seeking behaviors and reduced participation in contact sports.

TBI-related ER visits among girls, meanwhile, increased over the study period, climbing to 254.3 per 100,000 children from 216.5.

A TBI can be caused by impact to the head or body and result in emotional, physiological and cognitive issues. To help reduce the risk, the researchers suggest limiting player-to-player contact and changing rules to reduce collisions in youth sports. If a TBI does occur, effective diagnosis and management can promote positive health outcomes.

The study was published online March 15 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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