Basketball is America's most popular team sport, but 375,000 children end up in emergency rooms each year after playing hoops, which is no fun at all. The number of traumatic brain injuries suffered by children playing basketball rose 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to a new study in Pediatrics, even though the total number of basketball injuries declined over that time.
Part of the increase in traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, is no doubt due to increased awareness that a concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury, can lead to permanent brain damage if an injured child continues to play a contact sport like basketball without having time to heal. But the authors of the new study, conducted at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, speculate that the increase in concussions and other TBIs may also be due to rougher, more competitive play at ever-younger ages.
Fortunately, TBIs are still relatively rare in basketball, accounting for approximately 4 percent of injuries that brought children to the ER, the researchers found. Sprains and strains were the most common, accounting for 45 percent of injuries, followed by dislocations and fractures, at 22 percent. But the proportion of injuries that were TBIs doubled for boys and tripled for girls during that time period. And TBIs can be the most devastating of all the injuries listed, since they can cause lifelong cognitive problems.
Reducing the risk of basketball injuries, and particularly head injuries, should become part of the game for all families who love the sport. Here is advice from the experts:
"We don't want to discourage children from playing basketball," McKenzie says. "We just want kids to be as safe as possible when they are playing."
Basketball is a great sport, and all children should get a chance to learn it and enjoy it. But no one should have to end up with a serious head injury as a result. This latest news is a wake-up call for parents to make sure their children—and coaches—put playing safe ahead of playing hard.