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More than a third of water polo players suffer concussion

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A new study suggests that concussions are prevalent in water polo, especially among goalkeepers.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) surveyed more than 1,500 players to help understand the risks of head impact and concussion in men and women who play water polo. They found that 36% of players (30.8% of males and 43.5% of females) reported sustaining at least one concussion either during games or in practice, with an average of 2.14 concussions per person.

Among player positions, goalies registered the highest rate of head injury. As many as 47% said they had suffered at least one concussion, with an average of 2.49 concussions per person. A majority of these head traumas occurred during practice rather than games, when defensive players are present and interposed between offensive players and goalies, UCI said.

According to the researchers, water polo features a high degree of physicality and aggressive play, and their findings point to the need for increased player safety.

“These numbers suggest that playing water polo carries a significant risk of concussion,” commented Dr Steven L. Small, professor and chair of neurology at UCI. “Our results speak to the need for systematic concussion reporting in water polo.”

He also noted that goalies seem to be at a disproportionate risk for concussion compared to other positions, with most head impacts occurring in practice. As such, wearing greater head protection during this vulnerable period might be of enormous neurological benefit, and doing so would have no adverse consequences in the competitive environment.

The study is thought to be the first epidemiological examination of head trauma in water polo. The results have been published in Frontiers in Neurology.