It is crunch time for high school football players. After months of practice and grinding through the regular season, it's finally playoff time.
As teams enter intense, head-to-head competition for the title of state champion, a new study is shining a spotlight on the toll on-field collisions take on teen athletes.
High school football players are nearly twice as likely to suffer a concussion as those playing at the college level, according to a study released last week by the National Academy of Sciences.
The gridiron is not the only place teens risk head injuries, though. Ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer and basketball also have high rates of reported concussions, according the report.
Many sports-related head injuries go unreported, though. Almost a third of high school football players surveyed for a 2012 report by the University of Arkansas said they hid concussion symptoms to avoid missing a game. Those symptoms can include nausea, confusion and grogginess.
Avoiding medical attention or receiving insufficient care puts students at risk for further injury, says Robert Sefcik, executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program. The nonprofit group helps Duval County Public Schools and other community sports clubs in northern Florida recognize, treat and ultimately prevent injuries to student athletes.
"Too often athletes at the secondary school level are allowed to continue to play or are returned to sport prior to complete recovery, putting them at risk for recurrent or more devastating injury," Sefcik said via email.
This could be due, in part, to high school coaches having less training and experience than those at the collegiate level, he notes, adding that many coaches also do not have a certified athletic trainer or other health care professional on staff.
"Our secondary school coaches have many roles they must play in an effort to field a competitive team; one of the roles should not be the health care provider," he says.
[Find out more about health risks for high school athletes.]
Schools that have a trainer on staff are more likely to detect and diagnose concussions. They also report lower injury rates, according to reports.
Still, less than half of all U.S. high schools have an athletic trainer. One reason is lack of funding, but stretched budgets should not prevent schools from protecting the health of their student athletes, Sefcik says.
"Any school willing to put children at risk of injury within contact and collision sports needs to prioritize the health care of these children," he said.
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