GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The number of confirmed concussions involving high school athletes dropped 11 percent last school year when compared to the previous year, according to a newly released report from the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
The 250-page report released Monday comes the same day Michigan high schools were allowed to begin football practice. It said a total of 3,958 head injuries were reported during the last school year, which was equivalent to 5.2 concussions per school – down slightly from the 5.9 average concussion rate per school during the prior year.
WHO’S AT RISK
The MHSAA says the total number of confirmed concussions last year was about 1.4 percent of people participating in high school sports.
The sport with the highest head injury rate was eight- and 11-player football, with an average of 44 injuries per 1,000 participants. Eleven-player football accounted for more than 41 percent of total concussions reported, at 1,647 injuries last year.
Ice hockey again ranked second for head injuries, with 36 per 1,000 players.
While 66 percent of confirmed concussion cases involved boys, four of the next five sports with the highest rate of head injuries involved girls, according to the MHSAA.
Highest injury rates (per 1,000 players)
Football (11-player): 45
Football (8-player): 32
Ice hockey: 36
Girls’ soccer: 28
Boys’ wrestling: 26
Girls’ basketball: 23
Girls’ competitive cheer: 22
Girls’ lacrosse: 20
Girls’ soccer had the third highest rate, with 28 per 1,000 participants, followed by girls’ basketball, girl’s competitive cheer and girl’s lacrosse.
The MHSAA said 66 percent of confirmed concussion cases involved boys – a ratio that was on par with the previous year. However, female soccer players reported double the concussion rate as their male counterparts, and female basketball players reported nearly triple the concussion rate as male basketball players.
The MHSAA said that disparity was consistent with numbers from the prior year. Researchers say anatomy and society may explain the difference.
A study by Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports based on MHSAA concussion data concluded females may be more susceptible to concussions than males because of “structural differences to the neck and head,” neurological differences in the brain and because females “may be more honest in reporting concussions,” according to MHSAA executive director John E. Roberts
“We need to find out why. Are girls just more willing to report the injury? Are boys hiding it? These are some of our most important questions moving forward, and they will be critical in our efforts to educate athletes, their parents and coaches on the importance of reporting and receiving care for these injuries immediately,” Roberts said in a news release Monday.
WHEN IT HAPPENS
About 55 percent of head injuries last year involved varsity athletes, the report found.
About 65 percent of concussions happened during competition, not practice, according to the report. The majority of head injuries happened in the middle of competition or practice.
Approximately 52 percent of injuries involved person-to-person contact.
At 27 percent, the largest portion of athletes returned to their sport within 6 to 10 days. Another 23 percent returned after 11 to 15 days of rest, which was very similar to the year prior.
WHAT WEST MICHIGAN SCHOOLS ARE DOING
West Michigan high schools are coming up with game plans to tackle the issue, starting with equipment.
“I think we’re getting better at improving the amount of concussions by reducing it and being proactive more than reactive,” Forest Hills Eastern Athletic Director Ben Sherman, who is also the head football coach, said.
He said his district has new helmets designed to lessen the force of a blow and minimize a concussion.
“Our guys all wear the Guardian that just kind of Velcros over the top and hooks in. It’s been pretty helpful for us, I believe, just kind of taking away a direct helmet-to-helmet impact that can happen any day during a practice,” he explained.
The district also has a new turf field with more give, and exercises focusing on strengthening the neck.
“We kind of do some different exercises where we’re pushing against the movement of the neck to try and strengthen — and that’s not just football but that’s all of our athletes to really focus on building that girth around the neck,” Sherman said.
Both Forest Hills Eastern and Rockford are administering what’s called impact testing, which measures a student athlete’s cognitive abilities before and after impact.
“When our student athletes come in as freshmen, they are observed and they also go through the protocol to develop a baseline and then that baseline data is used any time that a athlete has any type of head injury or exhibits any type of concussion symptoms,” Rockford Public Schools Athletic Director Tim Erikson said.
TRENDS VS. VARIABLES
Roberts cautions that schools may be refining how they report data and more statistics must be collected to determine if concussions in high school sports are on a downward trend.
This is the second year the MHSAA has required member high schools to report and track each injury through summer. The goal is to build data to determine trends and the best way to curb concussions in school sports.
“It’s the second year, abd so we see a little bit of a dip. As someone pointed out, until we get like a third and a fourth year, we don’t know if it’s a trend or a blip,” Dr. Ed Kornoelje, the director for Metro Health Sports Medicine, told 24 Hour News 8. “A lot of the things are going into the prevention of the concussions may be helping. And again, we’ll have to see in another year, do the numbers keep going down or do they go back up again?”
The MHSAA is already blazing a trail for others. It was the first state association to adopt a policy that sidelines an athlete for at least a day after a suspected concussion, and only allows them to return to play after being cleared by a medical expert.
The MHSAA was also the first group of its kind to provide all athletes at participating schools with secondary medical benefits when they suffer a head injury. During the last school year, 139 athletes made medical claims, down from 159 the year prior, according to the MHSAA.
–24 Hour News 8’s Sarah Hurwitz contributed to this report.