A study that examined data from more than 1,400 football-related concussions found that athletes at the youth, high school and collegiate levels have different outcomes.
Led by Zachary Y. Kerr, the study looked specifically at the mean number of symptoms, symptom prevalence, and proportion of athletes with long return-to-play times due to concussions.
According to Healio.com, three surveillance programs provided the data: the Youth Football Safety Study; the National Athletic Treatment, Injury and Outcomes Network; and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance Program. Athletic trainers attended practices and games for the 2012 to 2014 seasons.
The data showed that athletes at all levels reported a mean of 5.84 symptoms, and 15.3 percent returned to play within at least 30 days. High school players had more concussion symptoms compared with youth athletes.
Researchers found that youth and high school athletes had greater odds of returning to play at least 30 days after suffering a concussion when compared to collegiate athletes. Youth athletes had greater odds of returning to play less than a day after a concussion compared to high school athletes.
“The finding related to return to play under 24 hours being the highest in the youth level is surprising, but may be the result of young football players struggling to identify concussion symptoms and express how they feel to onsite athletic trainers,” Kerr told Healio.
“Thus, it is imperative to educate not only the young football players about concussions, but also all adults present as well, including parents, coaches, medical staff and officials on recognition and management of concussions.”
Kerr also emphasized the importance of having athletic trainers on site during all practices and games.
“Overall, having athletic trainers on site at any level of play is important to detect, diagnose and manage concussion,” Kerr said. “An investment in an athletic trainer at these games and practices is an investment in the health and safety of our adolescent and children athletes.”
The study's findings aren't likely to assuage growing concern nationwide over youth football's potential health risks, particularly related to concussions and head trauma. A poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell found that 79 percent of Americans oppose children playing tackle football prior to age 14.
“These survey results show that nearly all adults agree that forcing a child to play a game where they are hit in the head a few hundred times a year is not an appropriate activity,” said Chris Nowinski, president of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in a statement.