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Youth head injuries more common in recreational sport than team sport

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Children are more likely to suffer head injuries playing recreational sport than contact sports typically associated with risk of concussion, a new study shows.

Researchers in Australia and New Zealand examined data on 8,857 children aged between five and 18 years who presented with head injuries at the emergency departments of ten hospitals.

Just over a third (3,177) of the children injured themselves playing sport.

A total of 524 patients with sports-related head injuries (16%) needed CT imaging, and 14 children required surgery.

Bike riding (16%) and rugby (13%) were the sports that most frequently resulted in presentation to emergency departments, followed by AFL (Australian football) and other football, scooter, skateboarding, basketball, horse riding and hockey.

The most frequent causes of serious injury included bike riding (44%), skateboarding (18%) and horse riding (16%), with AFL and rugby resulting in one serious head injury each and soccer resulting none.

Overall, 45 of the 3,177 sports-related head injuries were serious and classified as clinically important Traumatic Brain Injury (ciTBI), meaning the patient required neurosurgery, at least two nights in hospital and/or being placed on a breathing machine.

“The study found that in children who presented to the emergency departments after head injury and participated in recreational sports like horse riding, skateboarding and bike riding were more likely to sustain serious head injuries than children who played contact sport like AFL, rugby, soccer or basketball,” said the lead research author, Professor Franz Babl from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.

The findings are set to be published in the Australian Medical Journal.