High school sports with the highest concussion rates

These are sports that involve a lot of impact — either with the ball or another athlete — increasing the risk of concussion.

High school football players are experiencing concussions less often during practice, but the rate of concussions during games has gone up, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, which examined thousands of high school athletes across 20 different sports, found that the rate of repeat concussions across all sports has dropped. But several sports still pose higher risk.

The three sports with the highest concussion rates were:

  • Boys’ football, 10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures
  • Girls’ soccer, 8.19 per 10,000 athlete exposures
  • Boys’ ice hockey, 7.69 per 10,000 athlete exposures

“These are sports that involve a lot of impact — either with the ball or another athlete,” said Tad D. Seifert, M.D., neurologist with Norton Sports Health and Norton Neuroscience Institute.

Recurrent Concussions Dropping

The good news, according to the study, is that less than 10% of reported concussions were recurrent — meaning an athlete had suffered multiple concussions — which is a decrease over the past several years.

“We continue to see improvement in how we diagnose, treat and monitor concussions,” Dr. Seifert said. “I think this also shows that legislation to regulate when players can return to the field is working.”

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Norton Sports Health is the official health care provider of the Louisville Cardinals and the official sports health provider of 14 Jefferson County Public Schools high schools, New Albany and Floyd Central high schools.

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Practice Versus Game Injuries

The study found that across all sports, nearly two-thirds of concussions occurred during competitions. Only one sport had a concussion rate higher in practice than in competition: cheerleading.

“In football, there have been significant changes made to reduce contact exposure during routine practices, which has reduced the amount of player-to-player collisions and other mechanisms that contribute to head injury,” Dr. Seifert said. “However, the intensity of a competitive game atmosphere is also something that’s very difficult to reproduce in a practice setting.”

According to Dr. Seifert, cheerleading practices generally take place on hard gymnasium floors that are made of vinyl or rubber and are designed for sports other than cheerleading. These surfaces likely increase the risk of brain injury when falls occur.

“There is also a cumulative increased risk of concussion in practices simply due to the amount of repetition incurred with each practice session compared with game or competition,” Dr. Seifert said.

Does the Risk of Sports Outweigh the Reward?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 800,000 traumatic brain injuries occur in children every year. These types of injuries have become more concerning as research has shown that they can lead to long-term memory loss, dementia and other serious health issues. Still, Dr. Seifert encourages parents to let their kids play sports.

“There’s always a risk when playing sports,” he said. “But, in my opinion, the benefits — exercise, teamwork, socialization — outweigh the risk. With that being said, health is the most important component. Any teen with a concussion should be closely monitored and cleared by a professional before resuming activity.”

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