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  • Study Looks at Concussion Rates Among NCAA Sports

    A new study of 5 years' worth of concussion data from NCAA sports reveals that men's wrestling is the sport with the highest rate of sports-related concussion (SRC), but men's football remains on top in terms of the sheer number of athletes who experience SRC while in practice or competition. And in men's and women's sports that can be directly compared—lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer, and others—female athletes tend to have higher rates of SRC than their male counterparts.

    Researchers analyzed statistics from the NCAA Injury Surveillance Program (ISP) and found that between the 2009-2010 and 2013-2014 academic years, the overall SRC rate was 4.47 per 10,000 athlete exposures, or about 10,560 SRCs annually. Among reported SRCs, about 1 in 11 was recurrent. In almost every sport, the majority of SRCs occurred in practice, while the actual rates of SRCs were higher in competition settings.

    Topping the list in terms of SRC rates was men's wrestling, which reported an overall rate of 10.92 per 10,000 athlete exposures. Next was men's ice hockey at 7.91, followed closely by women's ice hockey at 7.52. Men's football had a 6.71 rate of SRCs, but with an estimated 3,417 SRC incidents annually, it took the position as the sport that produced the most SRCs overall. Research results were published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in September (abstract only available for free).

    Rounding out the top 10 sports in terms of SRC rates were football in third position at the 6.71 rate, followed by women's soccer (6.31,), women's basketball (5.95), women's lacrosse (5.21), women's field hockey (4.02), men's basketball (3.89), and women's volleyball (3.57).

    When it came to the overall estimated annual numbers of SRCs by sport, men's football was followed by women's soccer (1,113), women's basketball (998), men's basketball (773), and men's wrestling (617).

    Researchers note differences in sex-comparable sports, with the women's sports reporting higher rates of SRCs in 4 of 5 activities (all except ice hockey, where men's and women's rates were nearly equal). Authors describe this finding as "consistent" with earlier NCAA findings and point to several factors that could contribute to these differences, including greater angular rotation and head-neck segment peak acceleration and displacement in women, weaker neck muscles, and the possibility that female athletes are more likely to report concussion.

    In terms of the source of SRC, researchers found player-to-player contact as the leading cause, though this varied by sport, with some sports also reporting contact with the floor, balls, and equipment as not-infrequent causes of SRC. In men's wrestling, for example, "surface contact during takedown" accounted for 15.1% of all SRCs reported, while in women's volleyball, more SRCs occurred from ball contact or surface contact than from player contact.

    Authors of the study write that overall rates of SRC seem to be increasing, but speculate that the increase may be related to increased reporting. The only sport that did not report an increase during the study period? Men's wresting, which while still highest in terms of incidence rates, actually dropped during the 5-year study period.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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