Severe Football Head Injuries More Common in High School Than College

Catastrophic football head injuries are rare, but they may
be more than three times as common in high school football players than college
athletes, a new study shows.

Catastrophic head injuries, which include bleeding or swelling in the brain,
can be fatal.

Even if football head injuries aren't severe, players with head injuries
should stay out of the game, note the researchers, who included Barry Boden,
MD, of The Orthopedic Centre in Rockville, Md.

"Coaches, athletes, parents, athletic trainers, and all medical
personnel need to be educated to never allow an athlete to continue playing
football with ongoing neurologic symptoms," write Boden and colleagues.

Coaches also "need too continue educating players to avoid hitting with
the head," the researchers write in July's edition of The American
Journal of Sports Medicine

Football Head Injuries Studied

Boden's team reviewed 94 cases of severe head injuries sustained by high
school football players and college football players between 1989 and 2002.

All but two of those cases occurred in high school athletes.

The cases, which were reported to the National Center for Catastrophic
Sports Injury Research, included eight players who died from their head
injuries and 46 athletes who suffered permanent paralysis, memory loss,
seizures, or other permanent

The head injuries typically happened when the athlete's head hit another
player's head, other body part, or the ground during a tackle. Head injuries
were more common during games than during practices.

Based on the number of high school
and college football players -- including the vast majority who don't get
severe head injuries -- the researchers estimate that catastrophic head
injuries are 3.28 times more common in high school football players than in
college players.

The study doesn't show why that is, but Boden's team has several

High school football players may more vulnerable than college players to
severe head injuries because their brains are younger. Or perhaps high school
players are more likely to have poorly fitting or substandard helmets, note the

Playing With Previous Head Injuries

The study includes details on 59 of the 92 catastrophic head injury

Of those 59 cases, 35 players had a previous head injury, typically
sustained earlier in the same season but not on the same day as their
catastrophic head injury.

The researchers also learned that out of 54 cases, more than a third
occurred in players who still had symptoms of previous head injuries.

That practice of playing hurt has got to stop, the researchers note.

"Football is a very macho sport," Boden says in a news release from
the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. "These injured
athletes are allowed to return to play before full recovery, leaving them
susceptible to a more significant injury."

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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