Catastrophic Head Injuries in High School and Collegiate Sports

J Athl Train. 2001 Sep;36(3):312-315.


OBJECTIVE: To describe the incidence of catastrophic head injuries in a variety of high school and college sports. DESIGN AND SETTING: Data on catastrophic head injuries were compiled in a national surveillance system maintained by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. The data were compiled with the assistance of coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, executive officers of state and national athletic organizations, a national newspaper clipping service, professional associates of the researchers, and national sport organizations. SUBJECTS: Data included all high school and college athletic programs in the United States. MEASUREMENTS: Background information on the athlete (age, height, weight, experience, previous injury, etc), accident information, immediate and postaccident medical care, type of injury, and equipment involved. Autopsy reports were used when available. RESULTS: A football-related fatality has occurred every year from 1945 through 1999, except for 1990. Head-related deaths accounted for 69% of football fatalities, cervical spinal injuries for 16.3%, and other injuries for 14.7%. High school football produced the greatest number of football head-related deaths. From 1984 through 1999, 69 football head-related injuries resulted in permanent disability. Sixty-three of the injuries were associated with high school football and 6 with college football. Although football has received the most attention, other sports have also been associated with head-related deaths and permanent disability injuries. From 1982 through 1999, 20 deaths and 19 permanent disability injuries occurred in a variety of sports. Track and field, baseball, and cheerleading had the highest incidence of these catastrophic injuries. Three deaths and 3 injuries resulting in permanent disability have occurred in female participants. CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS: Reliable data collection systems and continual analysis of the data can help us to reduce the number of catastrophic head-related injuries. I include additional recommendations for injury prevention.