New research from Seattle Children's Research Institute and UW Medicine's Sports Health and Safety Institute found concussion rates between football players ages 5-14 were higher than previously reported, with five out of every 100 youth, or 5%, sustaining a football-related concussion each season.
Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the study summarizes the research team's key findings from data collected during two, 10-week fall seasons in partnership with the Northwest Junior Football League (NJFL).
Licensed athletic trainers from Seattle Children's treated and recorded concussion from the sidelines at NJFL games to allow researchers to characterize concussions in this age group
"Measuring the incidence of concussion in grade-school and middle-school football players is essential to improving the safety of the game," said Dr. Sara Chrisman, an investigator in the research institute's Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development and lead author on the study. "It's hard to determine the impact of prevention efforts if we do not know how often these injuries occur at baseline."
Getting accurate data in a difficult to track age group
Part of the reason previous studies may have underestimated the incidence of concussion in youth football by as much as 4% is that they reported incomplete injury reports from team managers, coaches or other data sources.
Despite an American Academy of Pediatrics that recommend athletic trainers provide medical coverage for youth football, the use of athletic trainers is not prevalent in grade-school and middle-school football leagues. It is likely that some youth with a concussion in this age group go undiagnosed in the absence of a medical professional on the sidelines.
To provide a more accurate snapshot of concussion, the current study included licensed athletic trainers for medical surveillance at the NJFL league games and practices during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
The athletic trainer's researchers identify 51 football-related concussions among the 863 youth they followed as part of the study, with 133 of those players participating in the study for two seasons.
In addition to reporting on concussion incidence, found two-thirds of concussions occurred during games, almost half of head-to-head contact. Follow-up surveys found a history of prior concussion was associated with a two-fold greater risk of concussion, and a history of depression was associated with a five-fold greater risk of concussion.
"We're just looking at how factors such a prior injury or depression might contribute to a child's risk of concussion." Our study revealed patterns about who was most at risk for concussion, and these are areas we hope to explore in future studies, "said Chrisman, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Researchers found most youth within a few days, but half took longer than 13 days to return to sport and longer than three weeks to return to baseline symptoms.