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Basketball and Concussions

The incidence of head injuries in college hoops seems to be on the rise.
The incidence of head injuries in college hoops seems to be on the rise.

If you've played basketball since puberty, you've probably taken a blow to the head or landed hard and smoked your gourd on the floor; it's a contact game, and these things happen. If you have ESPN or listen to sports talk radio, you've probably heard of the recent, growing concern regarding concussions in competitive athletics. Sidney Crosby still has no return date from his concussions, and the Twins' Justin Morneau has been on and off the DL for about a year because of his. The NFL's problems have gotten plenty of ink as well. This all leads me to the question: where are the basketball concussions?

It turns out that they're there, just in much lower proportion than in other sports. In the 2005 - 2006 school year, there were 33 concussions reported in NCAA basketball. This number equates to about one concussion per 4,000 student-athletes participating. NCAA football, by comparison, had a concussion per every 1,660 or so players. Due to the higher number of players on each roster, it's not surprising that more than half of all concussions reported were sustained by football players.

As is to be expected, the two most dangerous aspects of basketball are rebounding and chasing loose balls. Those two activities account for more than half of all basketball concussions. It should be noted that these numbers are estimated from a surveillance survey of high school sports, so take them with a grain of salt. The greater takeaway from the point should be that the activities that are more likely to result in concussions are those that place the most emphasis on raw athleticism.

As players continue to become more athletic, it is likely that concussions will continue to rise in college basketball. They rose by an annual average of 6.2% between 1988 and 2004 and don't figure to be slowing down. Injury analyst Will Carroll says (about halfway down the page), "I’ve been stunned at the numbers we’ve seen in basketball for concussions. It’s problematic mostly because there’s such high participation numbers at all levels, from little kids up to collegiate athletes. Worse, there’s no simple solution for the problem the way there is for football and baseball."

Players ranging from Juan Fernandez of Temple to IWU's Travis Rosenkranz have lost time due to concussions. Alabama's Andrew Steele suffered one worse, having to retire from collegiate athletics due to a recurring concussion problem. IPFW's John Peckinpaugh took to wearing a boxing headpiece to reduce his risk of recurring concussions. Beyond the possibility of that taking off as a fashion statement, it's hard to see exactly how basketball is going to combat the growing incidence of concussions on the hardwood. As players continue to move faster and spend more time higher off the ground, don't be surprised if the recent media crusade against concussions expands to basketball sooner rather than later.

NB: A good portion of the information in this article came from a recent National Association of Athletic Trainers study on concussions and the consensus statement on concussions in sport from Zurich in 2008. Both are informative - if dense - reads.