According to statistics released by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, in 2009, nearly 447,000 sports-related head injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the United States. This figure indicated an increase of almost 95,000 sports-related head injuries from 2008. Substantial increases in head injuries were noted in water sports, cycling, baseball, and basketball. This heightened prevalence of head injuries has resulted in a greater push to promote head protection in sports.
When it comes to head injuries while playing sports, concussions are the most common occurrence. Both children and professional athletes experience between 1.6 and 3.8 million concussions per year related to playing sports, and this type of traumatic brain injury can occur when the brain becomes shaken or jarred hard enough that it bounces against the skull. Concussions can result in an altered mental status and may have cumulative and long-lasting effects.
Although sport-related head injuries affect athletes of all ages, they are especially dangerous for children involved in youth sports. Brain injuries in children can result in serious health risks, and depending on what part of the brain is injured, long-lasting impacts of brain injury in children can range from memory lapses to potentially fatal brain swelling. Brain damage as a result of a sport-related head injury can permanently impact your child’s functioning, so it is important to take precautions to protect his or her head in order to minimize the risk of injury.
Sports and Sports Injuries
Soccer is the most popular team sport in on Earth, and millions of people ranging from kindergarten to adulthood play this game. When one of the most popular moves in the sport is heading the ball, it is no surprise that head injuries make up a bulk of total soccer injuries. A recent study completed in Norway found that roughly one-third of Division I soccer players had abnormal EEG patterns, which was more than twice the rate of the control group. Players who head the ball frequently were also found to have more neurological problems than other players, including issues with memory, concentration, and attention.
American football is known for having the highest number of concussions within any sport in the U.S., and over 250,000 injuries are reported each year. Research has shown that approximately 20% of high school football players experience one concussion per year. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Sports Medicine Research Laboratory, high school and Division III college players have a higher rate of concussions than Division I and II college-level players.
Although baseball isn’t considered a contact sport, concussions and other head injuries do occur. A line drive to the head, collisions with the wall in the outfield, or running into another player can all result in a serious brain injury with long-lasting implications. For example, after sustaining more than 10 concussions throughout his career in the major-leagues, former baseball player Ryan Freel was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He suffered the classic symptoms like depression and a lack of impulse control before taking his own life in 2013. Since this time, baseball organizations have made regulatory changes to help protect players from head injuries, including the ban of collisions at home plate, but the risk of a head injury from other sources still remains.
Hockey is another dangerous sport when it comes to head injuries. Not only do players have to worry about a puck whizzing toward them and striking them in the head, but they are also subjected to checking from other players and falls on the ice that could lead to head injuries. In Canada, head injuries as a result of playing hockey are especially problematic among the youth, as ice hockey causes nearly half of all traumatic brain injuries among Canadian children.
- Heading Soccer Ball Linked to Brain Injury. Regularly hitting a soccer ball with the head is linked to memory problems.
- Hockey Checks Can Result in Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries. Hits and checks in hockey have led to lasting brain injuries among athletes.
- Protecting Your Teen from Concussions in Basketball. Physicians from the Hospital for Specialty Surgery in New York City discuss teen head trauma.
- Hockey Causes Nearly 45% of all TBIs Among Canadian Children. Researchers at St. Michael’s report that almost half of TBIs among Canadian children are caused by hockey.
- Youth Sports Concussion Facts. The CDC provides information about concussions in youth sports for athletes, parents, and coaches.
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Brain Areas and Associated Functions
The brain is the body’s control center, and it is responsible for all of the body’s functions, including walking, swallowing, breathing, tasting, and regulating your heart rate. It also controls emotions, thinking functions, cognitive activities, and how we behave. Since different parts of the brain control separate bodily functions, damage to a particular part can produce different impairments.
The lower portion of the brain is known as the brain stem, and it connects the rest of the body to the brain at the neck. This part of the brain is extremely vulnerable, and if injured, it may result in physical problems like loss of balance, breathing problems, and an irregular heartbeat. The brain stem is responsible for the control of body temperature, blood pressure, and digestion, so it is especially important to protect this area when playing sports.
The cerebrum is made up of four different lobes. The frontal lobe is located in the front portion of the brain, and this section houses most of our thinking abilities. The frontal lobe controls language, our emotions, and how we perceive the world. Since this lobe helps us to understand concepts and to solve problems, functioning can be extremely impaired if the area is damaged.
The other lobes of the cerebrum are also important. The occipital lobe is responsible for visual processing and sight, while the temporal lobe helps us to perceive and recognize sound, memories, and speech. The parietal lobe is associated with movement and orientation, and it allows us to touch and manipulate objects.
Another important portion of the brain is the cerebellum. This area coordinates equilibrium, balance, and movements, and it can help with reflexes. Damage to the cerebellum could make it difficult for athletes to perform complex actions, and even basic tasks like walking can become difficult if this portion of the brain experiences major damage.
- Traumatic Brain Injury. Informative and sensitive exploration of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
- The Impact of Brain Injury on Functioning. How a TBI can impact the way that the brain normally operates.
- The Structures and Functions of the Brain. Find out how each part of the brain contributes to your ability to function.
- Living with a Brain Injury. Brain injuries can have unpredictable consequences that affect who we are, how we act, and the way that we think.
- Concussion Impact on Parts of the Brain. Clinicians discuss how areas of the brain are affected by concussion.
- Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Nonfatal traumatic brain injuries related to sports and recreation activities.
- Brain Lobes and Cognitive Skills. How the different lobes of the brain affect cognition.
- Brain Injuries and Frontal Lobe Damage. The impact of frontal lobe damage after a brain injury.
- Brain Injuries in 3D. A 3D image of the impact of a brain injury on the different lobes.
Sport-related accidents involving the head can lead to serious injury, and when brain damage is involved, the impact can be devastating and long-lasting. Brain injuries in sports can occur when two athletes collide, when an athlete is hit in the head with sporting equipment, or when someone falls. Even routine activities when playing sports, such as heading a ball in a soccer game, can result in a concussion and irreversible brain damage.
It is important to take precautions when playing sports in order to minimize your or your child’s risk of a head injury. The most important precaution to take is to purchase and properly use protective gear for the head. All headgear should be approved by the ASTM, or the American Society for Testing Materials, to ensure that it complies with safety standards. Helmets should always be worn when playing baseball, football, and hockey, and protective headgear should also be used when cycling, horseback riding, skiing, skateboarding, and wrestling.
In addition to proper head protection, other safety measures should be taken in order to prevent brain injury. Never let children play a sport that is not appropriate for their age, and make them sit out if they are feeling ill or are very tired. Never wear clothes that might interfere with vision, and be sure to wear something that reflects light if biking or playing at night. Parents should supervise their children when using sporting equipment, and it is important to make sure that equipment and play areas are safe and well-maintained. By taking these precautionary measures, you will reduce the risk that you or your child will develop a head injury as the result of playing sports.