Study: Minnesota HS football, hockey players most at risk for concussion

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High school student-athletes who play football, or boys or girls hockey are more likely to suffer a concussion than their counterparts in other sports, a new study from the Minnesota Department of Health found.

The study (which can be seen in full here) covered the 2013-14 academic year, comprising 36 public high schools and 67,212 athletes in the Twin Cities metro area. Certified athletic trainers from each school were asked to report concussion incidences online, which the department collected and sorted.

Applying the metro results statewide, the Department of Health estimates 2,974 sports-related concussions occurred last year, which averages out to about 22 at every high school in Minnesota.

A total of 730 concussions were reported as part of Minnesota State High School League activities during the study period, ranging from Aug. 1, 2013 to May 27, 2014. (There were an additional 34 concussions not included in the results because they happened outside the MSHSL season).

Football, by far, featured the highest number of concussions accounting for 304 of those reported, 42 percent of the total. (See the chart at right, taken from the study, for the full breakdown.) Girls soccer came in second at 9 percent, with boys hockey at 8 percent and girls hockey at 7 percent.

That's the total number of concussions, however.

If you look at concussion rate (how often concussions happen compared to how many players participate), both boys and girls hockey have nearly the same concussion rate as football.

All three of those sports reported about six concussions for every 100 student-athletes participating. (See the chart below form the report for a larger breakdown). Girls basketball came in next at about four concussions reported per 100 participants.

The report notes the number of reported concussions is likely lower than the actual number of concussions, due to different levels of support provided to each sport, athletic trainers not being at every sporting event, and the trainers not always being informed of a concussion.

Some other findings:

  • A 2012 study from the RIO system found approximately 19 concussions per school each year nationally.
  • The Twin Cities rate for concussions across all sports was about one for every 100 participants.
  • For sports with both male and female teams, females had a higher concussion rate.
  • The study found 5 percent of reported concussions had symptoms lasting longer than two weeks.
  • Starting in 10th grade, the number of reported concussions dropped as the athletes got older. The study says a reason for that isn't known, but it could be due to skill level or number of participants.

Returning to play after a concussion

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law requiring coaches to remove high school athletes from athletic events if they show symptoms of a concussion. A certified health care provider must provide written permission before the student-athlete can participate again.

The MSHSL concussion protocol says athletes must work their way back to the playing field with a step-by-step process; first no activity, then light aerobic exercises, then sport-specific work, then non-contact followed by full contact before being allowed to play again. A student-athlete must be symptom-free for 24 hours at each step before moving on to the next.

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