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updated 9/13/2010 1:16:57 PM ET 2010-09-13T17:16:57

An increasing number of children are admitted to hospital emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries sustained while playing basketball, the most popular team sport for kids, a new study suggests.

The number of cases of basketball-related traumatic brain injury, which include concussions, head fractures and internal head injuries, has increased by 70 percent among children over the last decade, the researchers say.

The increase occurred despite a 22 percent decline in the total number of basketball-related injuries over the same time period.

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The rise might be due to increased recognition, and therefore treatment, of traumatic brain injuries, the researchers say. However, factors such as the increased intensity and competitiveness of the game, along with the fact that children are starting to play at younger ages, might also have contributed to the rise.

The findings are similar to those of an early study, published last month, which found an overall increase in children's emergency department visits for concussions sustained while playing team sports. Concussions and other injuries to the head can pose a significant health risk to youngsters, the researchers say.

"Traumatic brain injury can have long-term impacts on young athletes. It can affect their heath, their memory, their learning and their survival," said study author Lara McKenzie, principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Basketball injuries
McKenzie and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a nationally representative sample of about 100 hospital emergency departments in the United States.

They examined cases of basketball-related injuries in children ages 5 to 19 between 1997 and 2007.

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Traumatic brain injury cases increased from 7,030 in 1997 to 11,948 in 2007. However, traumatic brain injuries might be underestimated because studies have shown that around a third of athletes don't recognize concussion symptoms, or continue to play after they experience dizziness, the researchers said. And basketball related injuries as a whole might be underestimated, since the researchers only considered injuries treated at emergency departments, not other care centers.

Overall, more than 4 million basketball-related injuries were estimated to occur during this period. On average, there were 375,350 injuries per year.
The most common injuries were strains and sprains to the lower limbs, particularly the ankles. Fractures and dislocations were also common in the arms and hands, particularly the fingers.

Preventing brain injuries
In order to address this problem, athletes and coaches should be trained to recognize symptoms of traumatic brain injuries and learn how to prevent them, McKenzie told MyHealthNewsDaily. Symptoms of these injuries include blurry vision, nausea, coordination and balance problems, loss of memory and feeling light headed, she said.Another recommendation is to use smaller basketballs for younger ages, which may decrease the number of concussions and finger injuries, McKenzie said. In the study, traumatic brain injuries were most common among younger children, ages 5 to 10.

Rough play should also be discouraged to minimize collisions, McKenzie said.

The findings are published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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