Though the number of concussions sustained by high school football players is not well established, it is in the thousands every year. And most of them are "completely preventable," says Dr. Eugene Hong of the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
The key is to make helmets fit properly.
"While professional and college teams have people trained in how to properly fit an athlete with a helmet, most high school and youth programs do not," Hong said. "Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of young athletes without proper head protection to avoid a potentially serious injury."
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), 300,000 sports- and recreation-related concussions are diagnosed nationwide each year. But the ACSM estimates the actual number is seven times more because so many concussions go undiagnosed.
A concussion is a temporary loss of awareness or consciousness caused by a blow to the head. Severe impacts can cause bleeding in the head or permanent nerve damage.
Concussion are often mild and patients typically recover. But each successive knock to the head multiplies the risk of suffering permanent memory loss, brain damage or even a loss in vision, hearing, smell or dexterity, according to LiveScience's Bad Medicine columnist Christopher Wanjek.
In studying the problem on high school gridirons, Hong found the most common mistakes involved misplacing the facemask, chinstrap and the helmet's position above the eyebrow. Athletic trainers are often better at fitting helmets than coaches, he said, and he encourages parents to learn proper fitting.
The National Football Foundation has a helmet-fitting guide here.
Hong presented his conclusion at the ACSM annual meeting in June and will publish the detils this fall in the organization's journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.