9 Sports With High Risk of Concussions That Could Lead to Dementia

by Amanda Page Editor

With its proposed settlement related to concussions, the NCAA joins the National Football League and other sports groups in developing guidelines to limit athletes’ risk of concussions. That’s important because researchers continue to link the brain trauma caused by concussions to dementia. Which organized sports are some of the most dangerous to brain health? How can an athlete protect the brain?


Football gets the lion’s share of attention on concussions. To minimize risk, players should wear properly-fitted helmets as well as protective equipment. While helmets do protect the brain, they are not 100% effective in preventing concussions. Therefore, the player should never use the head during a hit and should use proper technique when blocking and tackling.


Head injuries account for up to 22% of all soccer injuries. The most common injury is when a player’s head strikes another player’s head. The second most common is when a ball kicked from close range strikes a player’s head. Headers also may damage the brain. Leagues for younger players should consider “no heading” rules. Also, balls should be an appropriate size for the age of the player.


A study found that 375,000 youths are sent to the emergency room annually due to injuries in this sport. However, while research is needed to learn more about traumatic head injuries in basketball, concussions can be caused by flagrant fouls or blows to the head. Many players don’t report concussion symptoms, so additional education is needed for players in this sport.

Field hockey

Concussions account for about 7% of all injuries in this sport. Therefore, it’s important to wear appropriate protective gear and implement strategies to prevent concussion. Again, athletes in this sport should report any head injury and seek appropriate medical care.

Ice hockey

Despite mandatory use of standardized hockey helmets, concussions continue to occur with alarming frequency in this sport. Concussions can be caused by body checks. Therefore, coaches should teach safe methods for giving and taking body checks. Additionally, players should learn to take proper steps to protect their head when making contact with the board.


Concussions can be caused by a high hit, a cross check to the back of the helmet, a body check that causes the head or neck to whiplash, or when the head slams to the turf after being knocked down. While helmets do provide some protection to the head, they do not totally protect the head from concussions. Again, more education is needed to inform players about the risks.


In amateur wrestling, the head is exposed and sustains frequent contact. Wearing headgear that has a frontal pad minimizes the impact to the forehead and can help prevent concussions. Additional education of wrestlers and coaches can help prevent brain damage from concussions.


Closed-head injuries account for 4-6% of all cheerleading injuries. The increasing difficulty of stunts contributed to the 26% increase in concussion rates annually from 1998-2009. Cheerleading policies have been enacted requiring strength and conditioning training for these athletes and setting specific rules for executing technical skills. Avoid doing tumbling and stunts on hard surfaces.


Researchers have calculated that concussions happen at a rate of one in every 21 games, although rugby players often don’t admit to having concussions. Therefore, concussion awareness and education is needed for players, coaches and officials.

Amanda Page
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Amanda Page

Amanda was an editor and graphic designer for HealthCentral.