JAMA Pediatrics: sports concussions at least as common at practice

Several years ago, healthcare researchers began to suspect that people who suffer a series of concussions might be at just as much risk for long-term cognitive problems as those who suffer serious, traumatic brain injuries.

The issue came up largely in the context of professional contact sports like football and hockey, and indeed some 5,000 former NFL players sued the league for negligence in the prevention of concussion-related problems. 

With that news, many parents of youth football players began to ask sharp questions about what schools and youth leagues were doing to ensure their kids' safety. Others pulled their kids from football altogether.

Yet sports are great for exercise, learning teamwork and being part of something -- all of which kids crave and need. And, football is by far the most popular game among high school boys, with 1.1 million playing it every year in America.

So, some parents decided to let their kids continue to play but find a way to limit their exposure to head injury. And, since games tend to be much more intense than practices, one such compromise was to limit their sons to practices only.

Is practicing but skipping games a good way to avoid brain injuries?

Unfortunately, the answer turns out to be no, according to a study of the issue in JAMA pediatrics. Researchers used data gleaned from 24 college football programs, 96 high school football teams, and 118 youth leagues. What they found was a bit surprising -- among youth leagues, about 46 percent of concussions occurred during practices, not games.

Among the high schoolers and college students, the ratio was even more startling: The majority of concussions -- 58 percent -- occurred during practice. How could that be?

"The number of people exposed during practice is always higher than in games," explains the lead author of the study, "because not all kids at the high school and college level will play in games."

If your child wants to take part in organized sports, the possibility of a brain injury is something you need to take very seriously. Discuss your concerns with your child, his or her coach and your doctor.

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