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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Many High School and College Athletes Risk Brain Damage


The Iowa researchers analyzed information collected by coaches on 1,218 athletes who suffered concussions. The researchers found that nearly two-thirds of these concussions occurred in football players. Wrestling was the next most risky activity, followed by girls' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' soccer, and boys' basketball.

John Powell, PhD, tells WebMD that the study shows that a wide range of young athletes are at risk for significant head injuries caused by collisions during competition. "While we think of football as being collision-oriented, we forget that soccer players and volleyball players also collide," says Powell.

Powell, who is now a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan, says that in the past coaches, trainers, and even doctors have assumed that head injuries that don't cause unconsciousness are unlikely to create any long-term problems. But he says it's now clear that "these injuries can become serious if left unattended."

Lovell tells WebMD that some brain injuries are inevitable in contact sports. But he says proper training in tackling technique, for example, can reduce the chance of injury. He also says physicians and coaches should order mental functioning tests for athletes who suffer even mild head injuries so that any long-term damage can be spotted early.

That position gets strong support from James P. Kelly, MD, a researcher at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He writes in an editorial accompanying the studies that doctors who care for athletes need to "develop a better appreciation of the consequences of concussion."

The study on college athletes was supported in part by grants from the Arthur J. Rooney Foundation and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan.

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