Recreational sport causes more pediatric brain injuries than team sports

A team of researchers conducted a data analysis study, discovering that recreational activities such as skateboarding cause more serious pediatric head injuries compared with team sports such as rugby.

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A study conducted by researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Melbourne, Australia) and published in The Medical Journal of Australia, examined the data of 8857  children with head injuries to ten emergency departments in Australian and New Zealand hospitals. One-third of these children, who were aged between 5–18 years, gained their injuries from playing sport. 

The research team particularly looked at intercranial injuries as current understanding of the severity of head injuries children suffer while playing sport is still very limited.  

Lead author Franz Babl (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) explained: “The study found that in children who presented to the emergency departments after head injury and participated in recreational sports like horse riding, skate boarding and bike riding were more likely to sustain serious head injuries than children who played contact sport like AFL (Australian football), rugby, soccer or basketball.”  
“We found that 45 of the 3177 sports-related head injuries were serious and classified as clinically important traumatic brain Injury, meaning the patient required either neurosurgery, at least two nights in hospital and/or being placed on a breathing machine. One child died as a result of head injuries,” added Babl. 

From the data the researchers discovered that the most frequent causes for presentation to emergency departments included bike riding (16%), rugby (13%), Australian football (10%) and soccer (8%). 

However, the most frequent causes of serious injury included recreational sports such as bike riding (44%), skateboarding (18%) and horse riding (16%). Whilst the team sports Australian football and rugby only caused one serious injury each and soccer resulted in no serious injuries. 

Out of all the patients with sport-related head injuries 16% needed CT imaging and 14 children required surgery. 

This study was limited by the fact the researchers did not analyze population data, therefore, a future larger study using more representative data would help confirm this study’s findings. 

Sources: Eapen G, Davis GA, Borland ML et al. Clinically important sport‐related traumatic brain injuries in children. Med. J. Aust. doi:10.5694/mja2.50311 (2019) (Epub ahead of print);

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