Studies find more concussions happen in softball than in baseball

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COLUMBIA - High school softball players are twice as likely as high school baseball players to get a concussion, an Ohio children's hospital found. In Missouri there are also more records of concussions in softball than baseball.

The number of concussions in Missouri has risen each year the Missouri State High School Athletic Association has collected data. Harvey Richards, associated executive director for MSHSAA, said this trend is not unexpected.

"We don't think that concussions has either increased or decreased," Richards said. "Even though data's going to show you that it's increased. We think that's because they're just more aware of it, reporting it, and telling you what's going on."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, concussion is a brain injury that affects how you're brain works. A concussion is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.

A concussion can affect an athlete for a number of days or weeks depending on how serious the injury is. In order to avoid serious repercussions from a brain injury the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services recommends athletes abstain from activity for as long as their doctor recommends.

In Missouri, all high school athletes are required to read and sign a form about concussions prior to the start of the season. An athlete who has sustained a concussion must wait at least 24 hours before returning to their sport, and a health professional must sign off that they can return to play. MSHSAA worked with Missouri lawmakers to get the law passed.

"It actually was a big push at that time from the NFL," Richards said. "And research that came out as they had taken about 180 degree turn saying concussions were not an issue and all of a sudden concussions now are an issue. So we stayed in the forefront with about 13 other states and made sure we had legislation passed to educate the kids."

For a player to return to play after a concussion, they must let their body rest and recover. MSHSAA requires each athlete to go through a seven-step process to ensure that the athlete has fully recovered.

Hickman High School has an additional set of testing to ensure a player is healthy enough to return to play. Once an athlete is symptom free for at least 24 hours the athlete works with the PEAK Performance trainers at Hickman through a series of progressions.

The first day an athlete must run for about 15 minutes, and if no symptoms of a concussion return they can return the next day to run for 15 minutes and then about 20 minutes of drills. The next stage is doing sport specific drills without contact, and the fourth stage is returning to full contact practice. If at any time concussion symptoms return, they have to stay in that progression stage before moving on.

Stefanie West, certified athletic trainer at Hickman High School, said when an athlete is suspected of having a concussion they are immediately taken out of a game or an event. West said she asks the athletes if they have a headache, neck pain, nausea, dizziness or other symptoms along those lines.

"Every coach, parent and athlete will ask ‘when will they be back?'" West said. "Concussions are the one thing that's really hard to predict what that date return will be."

Hickman High School head softball coach Courtney Haskell had two players sustain concussions during the 2014-2014 season when the players collided at practice. Haskell said she does what she can to prevent her players from sustaining a concussion.

"Communication is key," Haskell said. "The biggest thing is teaching them the fundamentals so they can stay safe and stressing those everyday, working on them and then lots and lots and lots of communication between the players."

Having West at school was a big help to Haskell. She was able to keep both injured players calm while West was coming to the practice, and then help the other players remain calm.

"It can be a traumatic thing to see two players collide like that," Haskell said.

MSHSAA collects data of each reported concussion from every high school in its organization. The reports state what sport the athlete was playing and how long the athlete was out of practice for.

In the last data collection there were 89 reports of head injuries in softball, 20 more than were reported in baseball. Softball players missed more than 1,000 days of practice or games. Baseball players missed 630 practices or games.

Richards said there are always more concussions in female sports than male sports.

"The female side could be the physiology of the body," Richards said. "It could be that they care more about what's going on and they're more open about reporting."

Richards said there is no definite difference between how baseball and softball players sustain concussions. He said MSHSAA is focused on educating all athletes so they are more open about reporting and getting the rest their body needs. 

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