A new study by the University of Washington found that snow-sport related head injuries in children and adolescents are on the rise, and that greater awareness about helmets and safety is needed.
The study examined data from 1996 to 2010, and found that approximately 78,000 children and adolescents were treated at emergency departments in the United States for snow-sports head injuries.
Researchers, led by UW’s Janessa Graves, found that adolescents ages 13-17 were more likely than children ages 4-12 to visit emergency departments for treatment of head injuries.
“My husband and I were at opening day at Mount Baker, and on the last run of the day, we saw a girl fall pretty far down the slope,” Graves said about why she wanted to study snow-sport head injuries. “She wasn’t wearing a helmet.”
Graves said she began thinking about how many more helmets she saw regularly on the slopes, and wondered if head injuries had decreased in recent years.
What she found after examining data from a 14-year period in the U.S. was that the likelihood of traumatic brain injury is 250 percent higher in 2008 and 2009 than in the early 1990s.
Graves said there could be several reasons why head injuries are on the rise. There may be more risks on the slopes, as more and more skiers and riders get into glade skiing, tree skiing and terrain parks. High-flying competitions like the X-Games have gotten more popular in recent years, which could account for more risky behavior in skiers and riders.
The study adjusted for changes in the population, Graves said, so the increase in head injuries isn’t due to an increase in people skiing or riding.
Another reason for the increase could be that more parents are taking their children to emergency departments after potentially dangerous falls or injuries because they’re more aware of the damaging effects of head injuries than in the past.
Boulder Center for Sports Medicine medical director Dr. Jason Glowney said doctors at the center treat concussions, often for young people who play contact sports or for someone who fell off their bike or slipped on ice.
Glowney said he wasn’t surprised that adolescents suffered more head injuries than children.
“Adolescents have a little more freedom,” he said. “With skiing and snowboarding, the more extreme pursuits in those sports, it’s becoming more and more popular, and adolescents are the perfect age group.”
He said he agrees that pushing for more kids and adolescents to wear helmets would help decrease injuries, but added that educating parents and kids about head injuries would also help.
If parents recognize the symptoms of head injuries, which can range from headaches to nausea to dizziness, they should take action and have their children examined. He pointed out that head injuries can result from falls in which the child’s head doesn’t hit the ground or any hard objects. Even landing on his or her back or tailbone can cause head trauma, Glowney said.
“It’s education and increasing awareness,” he said. “When does it happen, how do you manage things? If you see symptoms, take heed of those. My advice is if there’s any doubt, it’s probably a good idea to take a break and be evaluated. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.