Trends in emergency department visits for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injury in children

Team Playing Football

In recent years, the relationship between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and athletic activities has reached the forefront of medical research and media attention. Because children have developing nervous systems and thinner cranial bones than adults, they may be more prone to TBI. In fact, children and adolescents account for an estimated 70 percent of emergency department visits for sports-related head injuries. TBI of all severity levels can lead to negative health outcomes for children, so researchers are highly motivated to discover the mechanisms, frequency, and effects of sports-related TBI on young people.

To this end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which contains records of every patient in the United States who was treated for an injury in a hospital emergency department. The CDC found that between 2010 and 2016, more than two million children under the age of 18 were admitted to an emergency department for sports- or recreation-related TBI. After analyzing these data, researchers found that:

  • Children ages 10 to 14 years and 15 to 17 years were most likely to sustain a sports-related TBI.
  • Boys were significantly more likely to sustain TBI than girls.
  • Most boys who sustained a sports-related TBI were injured while playing a contact sport (particularly football), whereas most girls sustained injuries from soccer or playground activities.

Because children’s brains and bodies are still developing, TBI can significantly disrupt a child’s life and may lead to poorer health outcomes in the long term. Consequently, there remains a constant need to monitor injury trends among youth who are particularly vulnerable to TBI, including those who engage in sports and other recreational activities.

Sarmiento K, Thomas KE, Daugherty J, et al. Emergency department visits for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries among children – United States, 2010-2016. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (March 2019).

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