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Sports Concussion Myths and Misconceptions

Sports concussion myths are still common, despite increased media focus and education in recent years.

Here are some of the many myths about concussions and the facts.

How and in what sports do concussions occur?

Myth: A concussion only occurs as a result of a direct blow to the head.

Fact: A concussion may be caused by a direct blow to the head, face, neck, or elsewhere on the body if the force of the impact is transmitted to the head. [1,2]


Myth: Players suffer concussions only when hit on a particular part of the head and the force of the blow to the head reaches a certain impact magnitude.

Facts:

  • Recent studies of college football players have shown that concussions occur from blows to different parts of the head and of varying magnitude. A relatively minor impact may result in a concussion while a high-magnitude hit to the head may not. There is therefore no way to know for certain whether a particular blow will lead to a concussion.
  • Concussions are caused by two types of accelerations or forces: linear (a straight-on hit) and rotational (a twisting motion).  On virtually every hit to the head, both linear and rotational accelerations are present.  Researchers and other experts believe that, of the two, rotational forces, because they cause a rapid "spinning" of the brain, are more injurious.
  • One study suggests that high school football players, especially those playing the so-called "skill" positions (i.e. quarterback, running back, wide receiver) suffer more intense impacts to their heads than their college counterparts and hence are more susceptible to concussion and severe spinal injury.
  • Impacts to the top of the head tend, however, to be higher in magnitude and more likely to cause concussion.

Myth: Only athletes in aggressive contact sports like football, hockey and lacrosse suffer concussions.

Fact: While football has the highest number of concussions, and concussions are common in hockey, lacrosse and wrestling, concussions also occur frequently in boys' and girls' soccer and basketball, and cheerleading.  For the latest statistics on the rates of concussions in high school sports, click here.


Myth: Football players participating in helmet-only practices are at lesser risk of concussion because they aren't hit as hard as in games or scrimmages.

Fact: The results are conflicting.  One recent study found that head impacts sustained in helmets-only practices were as severe as games or scrimmages. As the study's authors concluded, "There seem to be no 'light' days for football players." Another, more recent study, [1] however, found that impacts occurred more frequently and with greater intensity during games, not practices.  A 2012 study [10] of a small group of youth football players ages 7 to 9 found that most of the high impact hits occurred during practice, not games.

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