Lack of riding helmets worries Australian researcher

December 18, 2009

An Australian study has revealed that the third most common cause of head injuries in children in Victoria is equestrian accidents.

Equestrian sport was the third most common cause of sporting head injuries among Victorian children treated at a Melbourne hospital, a study reveals.

The study by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute retrospectively reviewed the medical records of 406 children aged 6-16 years who presented to the Royal Children's Hospital's emergency department with head injuries over a 12-month period.

Sport was found to be the leading cause of head injures among the youngsters in the survey, responsible for 32 per cent of head injuries, ahead of traffic accidents (20 per cent) and injuries sustained during leisure activities such as bike riding and using play equipment (17 per cent).

Of the sports-related head injuries, 33 per cent were suffered playing Australian Rules football (33 per cent), followed by cricket (12.4 per cent) and equestrian sport (11.6 per cent).

Of particular concern was that half the children injured from equestrian accidents were not wearing head protection at the time, putting them at increased risk of severe injuries.

Boys accounted for almost 80 per cent of the sports-related cases.

Co-author Professor Vicki Anderson said the findings, published by the journal, Emergency Medicine Australasia, highlighted the importance of using safety measures and educating coaches and clubs about the risk of head injuries, particularly in high-risk sports.

"Head injuries are a major cause of death and disability in children and even minor injuries can lead to problems with behaviour, attention and learning," she said.

"It is vital that coaches and clubs understand the risk and put in place appropriate prevention measures and return-to-play guidelines."

While most of the sports-related head injuries were classified as mild, including drowsiness, disorientation and brief loss of consciousness, one in 10 was more serious, involving skull fractures and bruising to the brain.

Anderson said the data from this study was likely to under-represent the total number of sports-related injuries in Victoria each year as many children did not present to hospital, instead attending general practitioners or seeking no medical help.

Anderson has roles at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.