More Study Urged on Concussions in Young Athletes

Can sports cause lasting brain injury in children? More research is needed. 

Posted: 11/01/2013 10:42 AM EDT

Is peewee football too early to wonder about concussions? Maybe not: A major report says far too little is known about the risks in youth sports, especially for athletes who suit up before high school.

And it's not just a question for football. The Institute of Medicine found no one knows how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions or which sports have the highest rates. Nor is it clear if better headgear ever will help.

The IOM and National Research Council on Wednesday called for a national system to track sports-related concussions and start answering those questions.

Despite a decade of increasing awareness of the seriousness of concussions, the panel found young athletes still face a "culture of resistance" to reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it's healed.

"Concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously. If an athlete has a torn ACL on the field, you don't expect him to tape it up and play," said IOM committee chairman Dr. Robert Graham, who directs the Aligning Forces for Quality national program office at George Washington University.

"We're moving in the right direction," Graham added.

But the panel found evidence, including testimony from a player accused by teammates of wimping out, that athletic programs' attention to concussions varies.

Reports of sports concussions are on the rise, amid headlines about former professional players who suffered long-term impairment after repeated blows. Recent guidelines make clear that anyone suspected of having a concussion should be taken out of play immediately and not allowed back until cleared by a trained professional.

Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community sports, it's not clear how many suffer concussions, in part because many go undiagnosed.

But Wednesday's report said among people 19 and younger, 250,000 were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001.

Rates vary by sport.

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(Photo: David Deas/GettyImages)

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