Catastrophic Brain Injuries Rising in High School Football

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Concussion awareness and prevention has been at the forefront of football issues, with Wisconsin becoming the latest state to enact concussion legislation, but the rise in permanent disabilities resulting from catastrophic brain injuries is a lesser-known issue that has many researchers concerned.

Since the 1980s, the number of high school football players suffering a permanent disability as a result of head impact remained in the single digits, hitting 10 for the first time in 2008 and again in 2009. In 2011, the number increased to 13, and researchers at the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research say that coaches and certified athletic trainers need to make some changes to prevent the number from increasing further.

About 67 percent of these catastrophic injuries were suffered by players during a tackle, according to Fred Mueller, the report's lead author. Not only can such hits result in brain injuries, but also cervical spine injuries, both of which can result in permanent mental or physical disability.

While head-to-head contact was prohibited in 1976, it is still common on the football field. The center's report calls for coaches and trainers to change how they teach the fundamental skills of the game, and for schools to hire coaches and trainers who teach the proper techniques. Additionally, referees must be strict in their enforcement of penalties for illegal tackles.

The movement for increased concussion awareness will also help to mitigate the rate of injury, as parents, coaches and athletes are called upon to know the signs and symptoms of concussions and other head injuries.

"All of these measures are important if we want to continue to make a positive impact on the game," Mueller said in a press release. "We have to continue research in this area. Accurate data not only indicate problem spots, but they also help us offer appropriate precautions and reveal the adequacy of our preventive measures."

Over its 48-year history, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research has been credited with nearly eliminating football fatalities, as well as drastically reducing the number of cervical cord injuries in players.

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