There was a 71% increase in rough-sports-related concussions reported by Blue Cross Blue Shield medical claims data since 2010 for patients ages 10 to 19. Fall, when football, rugby and soccer are traditionally played, is the peak time for these injuries, the report noted, and boys were twice as likely to be concussed than girls.
Overall, patients ages 10 to 19 are five times more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion than all other age groups combined.
Concussion rates vary quite a bit by state, but the reasons are not understood.
"More study on the differences in state regulations, their implementation, participation rates in contact sports, and local health care utilization patterns is needed to understand the reasons for the variations," Blue Cross Blue Shield explained in the report.
The steep rise in concussion diagnoses in the United States has prompted state legislation. Washington state's "Shake It Off Law," enacted in 2009, was the first in the country to require medical clearance of youth athletes before they can return to the field for practice, a game or training after any indication of head trauma. The other 49 states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar laws, but cases are still on the rise.
"We live in a litigious society, and there's more awareness of this as a problem," said Gino Brogdon Jr., an Atlanta-based personal injury attorney. "The 'Shake It Off' laws can help hold coaches and doctors liable for not following proper head injury protocols before sending players back onto the field."
Researchers intend to increase awareness to prevent cases of potential paralysis, long-term memory loss and many other short-term and long-lasting side effects, even death. This study, like others, points to the fact that an increase in concussion awareness and diagnosis is probably the result of education mandated by state-level laws addressing the seriousness and legal implications involving youth competitors.
Organizations are taking a stand for kids, as well. In Massachusetts, which leads the nation in reported child concussions, the city of Somerville and the Concussion Legacy Foundation
have partnered "to create a model city for youth sports safety." Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder and CEO Chris Nowinski are focusing their efforts on community awareness, trying to ensure that local coaches, schools, parents and children can safely participate in recreational sports.
"It is important to me that we take all of the necessary steps in preventing concussions in our youth athletes so that they stay healthy and safe as they develop their skills playing youth sports," Curtatone said, adding that that he was a father, a former football coach and a former athlete who had received concussions.
"We look forward to ... working with other cities to replicate this model in a scalable manner," Nowinski said.
Blue Cross Blue Shield emphasizes that "the intent of this report is to document concussion diagnosis rates and increase awareness that could help inform policy and concussion treatment practices for school districts and medical professionals."