Date: Oct. 30, 2013




Extensive Study on Concussions in Youth Sports Finds 'Culture of Resistance' for Self-Reporting Injury; Not Enough Evidence to Support Claim That Helmets Reduce Concussion Risk


WASHINGTON -- Young athletes in the U.S. face a "culture of resistance" to reporting when they might have a concussion and to complying with treatment plans, which could endanger their well-being, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council.  The report provides a broad examination of concussions in a variety of youth sports with athletes aged 5 to 21.  Overall, reported concussions rates are more frequent among high school athletes than college athletes in some sports -- including football, men's lacrosse and soccer, and baseball; higher for competition than practice (except for cheerleading); and highest in football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, and women's basketball.  Concussion rates also appear higher for youths with a history of prior concussions and among female athletes.


Although the committee that wrote the report examined useful scientific information to inform its study, it discovered that research about youth concussions is limited.  To address these gaps in knowledge, the committee identified several areas for further research, including establishing a national surveillance system to accurately determine the number of sports-related concussions, identifying changes in the brain following concussions in youth, conducting studies to assess the consequences and effects of concussions over a life span, and evaluating the effectiveness of sports rules and playing practices in reducing concussions. 


"The findings of our report justify the concerns about sports concussions in young people," said Robert Graham, chair of the committee and director of the national program office for Aligning Forces for Quality at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.  "However, there are numerous areas in which we need more and better data.  Until we have that information, we urge parents, schools, athletic departments, and the public to examine carefully what we do know, as with any decision regarding risk, so they can make more informed decisions about young athletes playing sports."


The committee found little evidence that current sports helmet designs reduce the risk of concussions.  It stressed that properly fitted helmets, face masks, and mouth guards should still be used, because they reduce the risk of other injuries -- such as skull fractures; bleeding inside the skull; and injuries to the eyes, face, and mouth.  The marketing for some protective devices designed for youth athletes, such as mouth guards and headbands for soccer, has advertised that these devices reduce concussion risk, but there is a lack of scientific evidence to support such claims, the committee said. 


The committee examined scientific literature on concussion recognition, diagnosis, and management and found that the signs and symptoms of concussion are usually placed into four categories -- physical, cognitive, emotional, and sleep -- with patients experiencing one or more symptoms from one or more categories.  Typically, youth athletes recover from a concussion within two weeks of the injury, but in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases concussion symptoms persist for a number of weeks, months, or even years.  A potentially concussive injury requires removing the athlete from play, caring for the injury appropriately in both the acute stage and during the recovery process, and returning to play only when he or she has recovered demonstrably and is no longer having any symptoms, the committee said.  An individualized treatment plan that includes physical and mental rest may be beneficial for recovery from a concussion, but current research does not indicate a standard or universal level and duration of rest needed.  Athletes who return to play before their brain has fully healed may place themselves at increased risk for prolonged recovery or more serious consequences if they sustain a second brain injury. 


The committee examined data on the effects of single and multiple concussions and found some observed impairments in the areas of memory and processing speed.  It also determined that a history of previous concussions is a predictor of increased risk for future concussions, although the extent to which the risk is increased is unknown.  In several studies, the number and severity of concussion symptoms is greater in athletes with a history of two or more concussions.  Additionally, athletes with a history of prior concussions may have more severe subsequent concussions and may take longer to recover.  The time interval between concussions may also be an important factor in the risk for and the severity of subsequent concussions.  Whether repetitive head impacts and multiple concussions sustained in youth lead to long-term neurodegenerative disease, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), remains unclear. 


The committee reviewed surveys of retired professional athletes, which provided some evidence that a history of multiple concussions increases risk for depression.  In a survey of more than 2,500 retired professional football players, approximately 11 percent reported having a prior or current diagnosis of clinical depression.  Very little research has evaluated the relationship between concussions and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  There currently are no data to evaluate this relationship because existing post-concussion symptom evaluations do not assess suicidal thoughts.


Some studies have shown that enforcement of sports rules by coaches and officials and adherence to these rules by players may help reduce the incidence and severity of sport-related concussions in youths.  Several organizations have called for a "hit count" in youth sports to limit the amount of head contact a particular player should experience over a given amount of time.  While the concept of limiting the number of head impacts is fundamentally sound, the committee found that implementing a specific threshold for the number of impacts or the magnitude of impacts per week or per season is without scientific basis.


The committee included additional noteworthy findings in the report:


The report was sponsored by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Education, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Athletic Trainers’ Association Research and Education Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the CDC Foundation with support from the National Football League.  The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council are part of the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent, evidence-based advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. 

Pre-publication copies of Sports-Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed below).



Jennifer Walsh, Senior Media Relations Officer

Chelsea Dickson, Media Relations Associate

Office of News and Public Information

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Additional Resources

Full Report

Report Page

Report Brief


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Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth


Robert Graham, M.D. (chair)


National Program Office

Aligning Forces for Quality

Department of Health Policy

School of Public Health and Health Services

George Washington University

Washington, D.C.


Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H. (vice chair)

Seattle Children's Guild Endowed Chair in Pediatrics

Professor of Pediatrics

School of Medicine

University of Washington



Kristy Arbogast, Ph.D.

Engineering Core Director

Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia



David A. Brent, M.D., M.S.

Academic Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and

Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Epidemiology

School of Medicine

University of Pittsburgh



B.J. Casey, Ph.D.

Director, Sackler Institute and

Sackler Professor of Developmental Psychobiology

Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neuroscience

Weill Medical College

Cornell University

New York


Tracey M. Covassin, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, and


Undergraduate Athletic Training Program

Department of Kinesiology

Michigan State University

East Lansing


Joe Doyle

Regional Manager

American Development Model

USA Hockey

Rocky Mountain and Pacific Districts

Colorado Springs, Colo.


Eric J. Huang, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor of Pathology and Neuropathology

Department of Pathology

University of California

San Francisco


Arthur C. Maerlender, Ph.D.


Pediatric Neuropsychological Services, and

Assistant Professor

Department of Psychiatry

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

Geisel School of Medicine

Lebanon, N.H.


Susan S. Margulies, Ph.D.

George H. Stephenson Term Chair, and

Professor of Bioengineering

University of Pennsylvania



Dennis L. Molfese, Ph.D.

Mildred Francis Thompson Professor, and


Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior

Department of Psychology

University of Nebraska



Mayumi L. Prins, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Residence, and


Education Program

Brain Injury Research Center

David Geffen School of Medicine

University of California

Los Angeles


Neha P. Raukar, M.D., M.S., FACEP


Sports Medicine Fellowship Program and Center for Sports Medicine

Warren Alpert Medical School

Brown University

Riverside, R.I.


Nancy R. Temkin, Ph.D.


Departments of Biostatistics and Neurological Surgery

University of Washington



Kasisomayajula Viswanath, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health



Kevin D. Walter, M.D., FAAP

Associate Professor

Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Pediatrics

Medical College of Wisconsin



Joseph L. Wright, M.D., M.P.H.

Senior Vice President for Community Affairs and Head

Child Health Advocacy Institute

Children's National Medical Center

Washington, D.C.




Morgan Ford

Study Director