ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota high school hockey and football players are more likely to get concussions than their hoop-shooting or ball-kicking classmates, according to a report released Thursday.
The Minnesota Department of Health collected data from athletic trainers at 36 Twin Cities-area schools during the last academic year to provide the first glimpse at how often high school athletes are concussed, in what sports and for how long.
Their report shows girls and boys hockey have the highest concussion rates, with about 6 in 100 players reporting a concussion. All told, the state estimates 3,000 players were concussed last year — nearly half of them football players.
Concussions were once considered part of the game; just shake it off and get back in there, coaches would say. But lawsuits and settlements from professional players who suffered blows to the head have caused alarm from the big leagues to the youth level, prompting calls for better protection for players and more research.
State officials said their report shouldn't dissuade parents from signing up their kids for hockey or football, nor does it scream a quick fix to cut down on concussions in high school sports. Instead, it should be a signal to parents and coaches that concussions need to be taken just as seriously as broken bones or sprained ankles, Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said.
"Be attentive to this. Don't take it lightly," said Lori Glover, director of rehabilitation at the Institute of Athletic Medicine.
Minnesota already has taken steps to address concussions. State lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 requiring coaches to remove young athletes from the game if they show symptoms — headaches, confusion, nausea or vomiting among them — and mandated training for concussion awareness.
Glover, who helped author the study, said their research makes it clear coaches are taking concussions more seriously. In a bright spot, the study found just 5 percent of athletes who took a blow to the head suffered concussion-like symptoms for two weeks or more.
But the concussion numbers also raised plenty of questions: Why are girls more likely to get concussions than boys playing the same sport? Why did concussions peak with high school sophomores, then taper off for 11th and 12th graders?
The state plans to expand its data collection statewide this year to try to answer those questions and others, including whether there's a difference in concussion frequency at urban and rural Minnesota schools.
Ultimately, the state hopes to use concussion data to target specific on-field or training changes that will prevent concussions, said Jon Roesler, an epidemiologist supervisor at the health department. One year of data from 36 schools isn't enough to find a silver bullet, but it's a start, Ehlinger said.
"The data may not say how we change the practice on the field in different sports, but it will change the practice of schools and parents and the community making concussions a bigger issue," Ehlinger said.