Traumatic brain injury is common in school-age children who participate in sports and recreation activities

Children who engage in athletics and recreation – and high-impact sports in particular – are at high risk for sustaining traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because the adolescent brain is still developing, TBI can cause serious disruptions to children’s ability to function socially, academically, and emotionally. As a result, researchers are highly motivated to prevent adolescent sports-related TBI and develop interventions to improve post-injury outcomes.

To further examine sports-related injuries in school-age children, a group of researchers at UNC Chapel Hill conducted a survey of injury-related emergency department visits by children aged 5 to 18 years old. They collected hospital records of more than 750,000 children who were admitted to the emergency department for unintentional injuries over a five-year period. After analyzing the data, the researchers determined that:

  • More than one-quarter of children sustained sports-related injuries.
  • Children with sports-related injuries were more likely to sustain TBI and upper extremity injuries, compared to children whose injuries were not sports-related.
  • For girls, soccer was the leading cause of sports-related injury. For boys, the leading cause was tackle football.
  • Boys aged 15 to 18 were the most likely group to experience TBI as a result of sports-related injury.

Although sports and recreation are part of a healthy, active lifestyle, they contribute to rates of adolescent injury, particularly upper extremity and brain injuries. Clinicians are advised to account for sex and age differences when creating patient treatment plans. Furthermore, because early intervention can be critical for improving outcomes, parents, coaches, and active adolescents are encouraged to remain watchful for any sign of sports-related injuries.

Harmon KJ, Proescholdbell SK, Register-Mihalik J, et al. Characteristics of sports and recreation-related emergency department visits among school-age children and youth in North Carolina, 2010-2014. Injury Epidemiology. (May 2018).


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