High School Football Brings Brain Trauma Dangers

ByABC News
March 24, 2008, 12:30 AM

Mar. 23 -- FRIDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) -- The number of catastrophic head injuries in high school football far exceeds the number of such injuries in college football, a new study finds.

In addition, the number of high school players who receive such head injuries and then play with residual effects is "unacceptably high," according to the report in the July issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Catastrophic brain trauma can include brain bleeding and swelling. While rare, it can result in permanent brain damage, experts warn.

But they also note that better headgear means the rate of football-linked brain trauma has fallen over generations.

"These injuries were much more common in the 1950s and '60s," said lead researcher Dr. Barry P. Boden of the Orthopedic Center in Rockville, Md. "With the advent of the modern helmet, the number of these injuries have gone down," Boden said.

Playing with a head injury can be dangerous, however. "Players should never go back to participating in football with any kind of neurological symptoms," advised Boden, who is also an associate professor at the Uniform Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

In the study, the researchers studied 94 cases of severe football head injuries that occurred among U.S. athletes between September 1989 and June 2002.

They found that there is about one such injury for every 150,000 high school football players. This translates to seven catastrophic head injuries each year.

High school players have more than triple the risk of sustaining catastrophic head trauma compared to college players, the researchers found. High school athletes suffered 0.67 such injuries per 100,000 players compared with 0.21 injuries per 100,000 for college players.

There may be several reasons for this, Boden said. The brain of the high school player may not be fully developed or his skull bone may be thinner, making injury more likely, he said.

"It is also possible because there is less medical coverage at high school games, so that players are not being evaluated properly," Boden said. "It is also known that younger players take longer to recover from a concussion, and it is possible that some of these players are going back to play too soon and are vulnerable to more serious catastrophic injury," he said.