It’s no surprise that high-school football is a dangerous sport. Allowing your child to play means accepting the increased risk of torn ligaments, broken bones, and head injuries. But most recently, child safety experts have suggested that the risk of head injuries could be much higher than originally thought. First, a New York Times report found that while helmets are adequate to protect against skull fractures, they often fail to prevent concussions. Now, Slate reports that a team from Purdue University has found that high-schoolers can suffer concussions without showing physical symptoms, meaning they could keep playing and potentially make the head injury worse.
Each year, predicts the study’s head author Eric Nauman, there are 1 million high-school football players. Among these players, there are 67,000 reported concussions, but the Perdue report suggests that many more go unreported as the obvious signs of a concussion aren’t apparent and players want to stay in the game. Here’s how Slate describes just how harmful these high school head injuries can be:
In collisions, “G” is a unit equal to the force of gravity. A low-speed rear-end crash causes an impact of 10G to 30G. A high-flying soccer ball lands on your head with a force of around 20G. Then there’s the high-school football player who, according to a recent evaluation by Purdue researchers, received a blow to the head during a game that carried a force of 289G—nearly 300 times the force of gravity.
What’s scarier, is that high-school students who suffer these head impacts without visible injury most likely experience damage to the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that monitors “executive functioning” and motor skills. [Also see our infographic on how the frontal lobe impacts a teen driving skills.] “These seem to result from repetitive blows to the top-front of the head,” Nauman told Slate. “The challenge is that we don’t really have sideline tests that can evaluate visual working memory or impulse control. So it is very hard to find the players in this group. Our fear is that they go undiagnosed, keep playing, and accumulate more and more damage.”
The concussion problem is going to take more scientific time and investment to solve. But when it comes to helmet safety standards, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has begun a campaign to demand stricter regulations by urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate helmet manufacturers for what he called “misleading safety claims and deceptive practices” designed to embellish the quality of their products. “Athletes who have already suffered a concussion,” he wrote the FTC, “may be particularly susceptible to misleading marketing claims about helmet safety.”
Photo credit: Anne Rossley