For roughly three decades, football has been the game of choice for sports fans in the United States. Between professional and college football, over 40 percent of all sports enthusiasts put pigskin at the top of their list of favorite sports.
It’s not a surprise, then, that football has taken center stage over concerns about brain injuries. Young people want to play the sport they grow up watching. It’s the sport that they sit around and watch with their families at holidays, and the sport that their heroes play. The relationship between head injuries and America’s now-favorite pastime has made it the subject of medical studies, a major motion picture and debates between parents over whether their child should be allowed to play football.
Parents should have that discussion, but they should also be aware of all the other ways in which their children might be at risk for serious head injuries. While football can be a dangerous sport, there are also risks in other sports, and even in our own homes. Before we look at some of these risks, let’s define what we mean when we talk about brain injuries.
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is typically the result of a blow or jolt to the head. Concussions are considered mild TBIs. We are only beginning to understand how significantly concussions and even sub-concussive impacts affect the human brain, but we do know that traumatic brain injuries have several physical and emotional consequences.
A TBI can impact our memory, our senses and our ability to interpret and form language. They can lead to disability, depression and anxiety. They can change our personalities and dramatically impact our quality of life. In short, TBIs are one of the most serious injuries that a person can suffer.
How Children Suffer Brain Injuries
Children suffer traumatic brain injuries in many of the same ways adults do. Across all age groups, 35 percent of TBIs occur due to falls, 17 percent due to vehicle crashes, 16.5 percent due to being struck by or against an object and 10 percent due to assault. Children are especially vulnerable to these types of injuries. Over half a million children are treated in emergency departments annually because of traumatic brain injuries.
Statistics tell us that children are more likely to suffer a TBI from non-sports-related activities than they are in sports-related activities. Fall prevention and vehicle safety are incredibly important in efforts to reduce the risk for brain injuries among children. Preventing child abuse alone would reduce the number of TBI-related fatalities and injuries among children by 1,300 per year.
Of course, sports-related incidents also play a big role in the occurrence of traumatic brain injuries. Over one-fifth of all TBIs among children are due to sports and recreational activities. Again, football plays a big role, but research suggests that there are also many other culprits.
Per the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the five leading categories of sports-related head injuries among children age 14 and younger are:
It’s worth noting that cycling accounts for nearly twice as many head injuries among young people as football. A survey cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 48 percent of young people wear helmets while riding their bicycles, a statistic that helps explain why so many children suffer bicycle-related injuries.
Looking for Opportunities to Reduce Brain Injuries
These numbers likely raise concerns for parents regarding the health of their children, but they also represent the opportunity to consider all the ways we can reduce their occurrence. Discussions about football are important, but parents should also teach children the risks in other sports.
Parents can also look for ways to reduce fall risks in their homes. Securing all furniture and televisions can greatly reduce the possibility of tip-overs. Installing guards or rails around windows and at the top of staircases can also lessen the chances of children suffering falls.
Motor vehicle safety is also a top priority for preventing brain injuries. Make sure that child safety seats are properly installed and appropriately sized for the child. Due to the high number of child safety seat recalls, parents should always register their seats with the manufacturer and check for recalls when using or purchasing a used car seat.
It makes sense that parents would focus so much attention on football, but neglecting the other common causes of brain injuries might distract us from all of the other precautions we can take to make our children safer.
Julie Butcher is a personal injury attorney in Lexington, KY.