Significant increase in concussions among Ontario children and youth: York U study

Alison MacPherson headshot

The number of children and youth treated for concussions in both emergency departments and physicians’ offices in Ontario increased significantly between 2003 and 2010, with falls, hockey and skating injuries identified as the leading causes of pediatric concussion. That’s what a new joint study out of York University and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) has found.

The study, “A population-based study of pediatric emergency department and office visits for concussions from 2003 to 2010,” published Friday in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, analyzed all visits related to a concussion by school-aged youth (three to 18 years) in Ontario from 2003 to 2010.

Alison MacPherson
Alison Macpherson

“This study is the first to examine pediatric concussions evaluated in both emergency departments and physicians’ offices,” says York University Professor Alison Macpherson, the study’s lead author. “By examining all of the pediatric concussions evaluated in multiple facilities, we were able to minimize the issue of under-reporting and obtain a more accurate number of concussions treated in Ontario.”

Between 2003 and 2010, researchers found a total of 88,688 pediatric concussions were treated in either an emergency department or a physician’s office, and there was a significant trend in both locations. The total rate of concussions per 100,000 increased from 466.7 to 754.3 for boys, and from 208.6 to 440.7 for girls during the study period. The numbers also showed that over time more children were being evaluated in physicians’ offices than emergency departments.

When the sources of concussion were broadly examined, falls were found to be the most common cause of concussion in an emergency department, representing 34 per cent of all emergency department visits, followed closely by exposure to force (25.5 per cent) and motor vehicle collisions (12.3 per cent). When specific causes were examined in more detail, hockey and skating – common sports in North America – were the most common causes of concussions that were treated in an emergency department.

“Our findings reinforced that falls in general are the most common cause of pediatric concussions, and that evidence-based prevention initiatives to help reduce the incidence of concussion are warranted – particularly in sports and recreation programs,” says senior scientist and chief science officer at ICES Dr. Astrid Guttmann, the study’s senior author. “Sports-related concussions can be minimized by taking preventive action, such as reducing body checking in hockey or wearing a helmet while cycling.”

Macpherson says that future studies can attempt to differentiate between the true incidence of concussions and an increase in those seeking a health evaluation due to increased awareness of concussion and subsequent health consequences.