Researchers outfitted high school athletes with head impact sensors to see which of four popular sports put them at the greatest risk of concussion.
No. 1 for both boys and girls: Soccer, according to a study published online recently in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. Blame it on intentional headers, which accounted for 80% of head impacts in that sport.
"Providing reliable data on head impact exposure and sport-specific mechanisms may help sports organizations identify strategies to reduce impact exposure and lower the risk of acute injury," said senior author Kristy Arbogast of the Minds Matter Concussion Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Teens are especially vulnerable to concussion, she said, because they are active in sports and recover more slowly than adults.
For the study, Arbogast and her colleagues analyzed data gathered from 124 high school athletes (56 girls, 68 boys) over the course of 104 games. Besides soccer, the sports studied were basketball, lacrosse and girls' field hockey. Overall, players sustained more than 1,600 head impacts.
While soccer had the highest head impact rate for both boys and girls, boys' sports had higher rates than girls' soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
For girls, basketball had a higher rate of head impacts than lacrosse or field hockey and was similar to the rate in boys' lacrosse, the findings showed.
The researchers said the similar rates in boys' basketball and lacrosse were unexpected because boys' lacrosse allows body contact and players are required to wear helmets.
The study also found that causes of head impacts varied from sport to sport.
Lacrosse, for instance, had a higher proportion of equipment-to-head impacts due to the sport's use of a stick. Meanwhile, most of the head impacts in basketball were the result of player-to-player contact.
The authors said their findings could lead to development of sport- and gender-specific rule and equipment strategies to minimize head impacts that could cause concussion.
"It's important to recognize that all head impacts are not created equal, so future studies need to explore the magnitude of these impacts," Arbogast said in a hospital news release. "For example, lacrosse and basketball may have similar impact rates, but the severity of impacts in lacrosse may be higher."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on concussion.
SOURCE: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, March 17, 2021