One in every 75 US college students gets a concussion each year – about twice s many as previously thought, a new study reveals.
And most of those injuries are sustained off the field, not during athletics, as commonly thought.
More than 40 percent of college students were estimated to have had at least one concussion, according to the new University of Colorado at Boulder study.
The researchers warn that people in general and college students in particular need to be aware that concussions aren’t just sports injuries so that the head injuries can be diagnosed and managed swiftly to reduce risks of long-term damage.
One in 75 US college students sustains a concussion each year, according to new research – and most of the head traumas happen off the field, contrary to popular belief (file)
About 340 concussions are diagnosed each year, according to the new research, published in JAMA Network Open.
Concussions are generally mild traumas to the brain sustained when people bump, knock or snap their heads forcefully.
Typically, it’s not a life-threatening injury, but brain swelling from even these minimal traumas can cause lingering or recurring headaches, confusion, forgetfulness and dizziness.
For college students in particular, these symptoms can disrupt studies and schedules and missed classes can hurt grades and overall performance.
Repeated concussions and sub-concussive head traumas have become a subject of concern in recent years with the discovery of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
CTE’s chronic swelling is blamed for dramatic mood shifts, mental illness and even the suicide of former New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
Since his brain was autopsied, scientists have come to believe that CTE is probably rampant in the NFL and former players, leading to attempts to redesign helmets and warnings that children should not start playing tackle football before age 14.
Even before the alarm was sounded about CTE, concussions have been all but synonymous with football.
But, in reality, the new study found that far more head trauma is happening off the field.
Each year, 51 out of 10,000 students sustain concussions while playing sports.
Another 81 students per 10,000 were concussed in non-athletic activities.
The most common culprits were simple falls – from slips on ice to skateboard crashes – which accounted for 38 percent of the injuries.
Blunt trauma from fights or accidents were to blame for 8.5 percent of concussions. Car crashes led to 6.5 percent of injuries.
‘There is a widely held perception that most concussions are sport-related. Our study shows it can happen to anyone, male or female, engaged in a variety of activities,’ said study co-author Dr Matt McQueen, an integrative physiology professor.
Female college students are at greater risk of head injuries than their male counterparts, according to the new study.
Among varsity athletes, 54 women got concussions in nine months, compared to just 26 men.
For reasons that are unclear as of yet, concussions have been on the rise among female athletes in recent years.
Some theories suggest hormonal differences and the relationship between the neck strength and head mass may leave women more susceptible to concussions.
Oddly, there was a huge spike in concussions every august all three of the years during which the research team collected data.
‘These data do not tell us why August had such high numbers, but anecdotally we know that August is a time of lower academic demand and higher risk-taking behavior,’ said study co-author Dr John Breck.
And all year round, there were far more concussions than the researchers expected to find.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates predict that about 98 out of every 10,000 people between ages nine and 22 sustain concussions each year. The rate was thought to be about 60 per 10,000 for the general population.
Based on the new study’s analysis of some 30,000 college undergrads over three years, the generalized rate is probably about two-fold previous estimates.
‘Our findings suggest that collegiate students, including the general population and varsity athletes, may be at an increased risk of concussion,’ the study authors write.
And that’s particularly problematic for young people in school.
‘Missing class and falling behind due to a head injury can be a significant detriment to a student’s academic success,’ said Dr Breck.
‘It’s critical that they get high quality, evidence-based care as soon as possible so they can return to learning in a safe way with as little disruption in their education as possible.’