Concussions and Health Risks of High School Sports

Written By: Annie Hauser

From concussions to sudden cardiac arrest, concern over the dangers of high schools sports have been mounting. Here are the most dangerous for young athletes.

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“What we’ve seen is a decline in catastrophic injuries, like paralysis,” he says, “but deaths from heat stroke and concussions, which are largely preventable, are still a huge concern. To combat this, we need a real effort from coaches, parents, and players.”


Here’s a look at some of the most dangerous sports on the books.





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Football causes more injuries than any other sport simply because there are the most football athletes. Since 2000, 145 high-school football players have died from football-related injuries.






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Cheerleading is the most dangerous high school sport: One out of every 100,000 high school cheerleaders will experience a catastrophic injury, Mueller’s data shows. But the more chilling statistic is that cheerleading causes two-thirds of allcatastrophic sports injuries in females, he says. Each year, it sends more than 25,000 athletes to emergency rooms, yet some state high school associations and the NCAA still do not technically designate it a sport, which is why football, gymnastics, and ice hockey are still technically considered to be the more dangerous sports. Head and neck injuries are the most common, followed by facial injuries from falling and collisions and concussions.




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The injury rate per 100,000 participants remains highest for gymnasts — 6.96 female athletes are injured for every 100,000 and 6.14 male athletes are seriously injured for every 100,000.






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Ice Hockey

Like gymnastics, the actual number of ice hockey injuries is low, but the ratesof catastrophic injury per 100,000 athletes are higher than any other sport besides gymnastics, causing 1.2 serious injuries and 0.48 deaths per 100,000 male athletes, and 2.04 serious injuries and no deaths per 100,000 female athletes in the past 20 years. “Ice hockey injuries happen when an athlete slides across the ice and collides with the boards, the goal, or another athletes,” Mueller explains. Charles Tator, PhD, MD, a spinal cord and brain injury researcher at the University of Toronto, estimates that 20 percent of Canadian children who play hockey get concussions, a particularly harmful condition in children.




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Lacrosse is a fairly safe sport, Mueller says, with boys’ lacrosse being significantly more dangerous than girls lacrosse because of the rougher level of play. Lacrosse caused 0.18 fatalities per 100,000 male participants and 0.62 serious injuries in the past 20 years, Mueller says. No deaths and only 0.25 serious injuries have occurred in girls’ lacrosse in the past 20 years, partially because female lacrosse players do not wear helmets, making the players less aggressive, Mueller explains. He says helmet use is being debated for girls, with one side arguing that helmets make the sport safer while the other side insists helmets will make player rougher, more violent, and consequently, more dangerous.




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Wrestling caused 0.03 fatalities and 0.31 serious injuries in the past 20 years, Mueller says, with the most serious injuries coming from blows to the head after an athlete is flipped on a mat.






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In the past 20 years, baseball causes 0.14 fatalities for every 100,000 athletes and only 0.01 serious injuries. Softball was responsible for no catastrophic injuries. Head-first slides or hits from a thrown or batted ball or a thrown bat are the most common causes of baseball injuries, Mueller says.






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Soccer doesn’t cause catastrophic injuries, but it does have the second-highest rates of concussion among any sport, second only to football. It also is the leading cause of ACL — anterior cruciate ligament — tears among female high-school athletes, partially because of the sheer numbers of girls who play soccer. A 2011 study showed that headers, or the soccer technique of moving the ball with the crown of the head, over time can cause brain damage. Collisions on the field also cause severe brain injuries and muscle strains and tears, Mueller says. Because of the concussion figures and research that indicates concussions might be more damaging in females and young athletes, causing some to call for a ban on heading in the sport.




Kids’ Concussions. Dr. Mallika Marshall breaks down new research that shows how even mild concussions can still have serious and long-lasting effects, especially in children.


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