Background: Youth sports programs are extremely popular throughout the United States, with children starting formal sports participation as young as 4 years. This places children at greater risk for concussions and other trauma.
Purpose: To describe the epidemiology of concussions sustained during participation in 9 organized sports prior to participation in high school athletics.
Methods: Over an 11-year span from January 2002 to December 2012, the authors reviewed the concussions sustained by athletes aged 4 to 13 years while playing basketball, baseball, football, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and wrestling, as evaluated in emergency departments (EDs) in the United States and captured by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) database of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.
Results: There were 4864 (national estimate [NE] = 117,845) youth athletes evaluated in NEISS EDs as sustaining concussions from 2002 to 2012. Except for the year 2007, concussion frequencies trended upward throughout the 11-year time frame as well as with increasing age. Loss of consciousness (LOC) occurred in 499 cases (NE, 12,129; 10%). Football had the highest frequency of concussions, with 2013 (NE, 51,220; 41%), followed by basketball, with 977 (NE, 22,099; 20%), and soccer, with 801 (NE, 18,916; 17%). The majority of concussions were treated in the outpatient setting, with 4444 (91.4%) patients being treated and released; 412 (9%) patients required admission and were found to have increased frequencies of LOC (n = 17; 18.0%) compared with LOC in the total group (n = 499, 10%). The total number of player-to-player injury mechanisms mirrored the total number of concussions by year, which increased throughout the 11-year span, except for the year 2007. Subgroup analysis of athletes aged 4 to 7 years demonstrated a difference in the mechanism of injury distribution, with a ball-to-head mechanism increase of 5% from 15% to 20% and a player-to-other object mechanism of injury increase by more than double to 13% compared with the entire cohort over the 11-year time frame.
Conclusion: Within the 4- to 13-year age range, there were a significant number of young athletes who presented to EDs with concussion as a result of playing organized sports. The 4- to 7-year age group had a disproportionately higher player-to-other object mechanism of injury.
Clinical relevance: Younger children are more susceptible to long-term sequelae from head injuries, and therefore, improved systems of monitoring for these athletes are required to monitor the patterns of injury, identify risk factors, and develop evidence-based prevention programs.
Keywords: NEISS; concussion; epidemiology; head injuries; pediatrics.