Biking, skateboarding more likely to cause serious child head injury than rugby - study

Children are more likely to suffer a serious head injury from recreational sports like riding horses, skateboarding, or playing on their bikes than from playing rugby, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, examined the sports-related head injuries of 3177 children between the age of five and 18 who presented to 10 Australian and New Zealand emergency departments between 2011 and 2014.

Lead research author Professor Franz Babl said the study examined "intracranial" injuries as, while "there is a lot of interest about sport and concussion, less is understood about the severity of head injuries children suffer while playing sport".

Of the sport-related head injuries examined, 45 were deemed serious.

The most frequent cause of a serious sports-related head injury was bike riding, which contributed to 44 percent of cases. That was followed by skateboarding which led to 18 percent of serious injuries, and horseriding with 16 percent. 

Rugby and Australian Football League (AFL) only contributed to one serious head injury each. Soccer resulted in none.

Professor Stuart Dalziel was a Kiwi researcher who worked on the study and told Newshub the data would help parents understand the severity of injuries resulting from sports.

"These really acute injuries are what can cause major disability and actually in some cases result in death," he said.

"For these injuries, it is not necessarily sports like rugby or soccer, that we hear a lot about in the concussion media, it's other sports and it is important for parents to have this information when they are deciding on what sports their children should be playing."

Bike riding contributed to the most overall sports-related head injuries, followed by rugby and AFL. Of the children who injured their heads playing sports, four out of five were boys.

Dalziel said recognising the severity of injuries that can result from the sport shouldn't deter parents from signing their kids up but should highlight to sporting authorities where work was necessary to make sport safer.

For a head-related injury to be deemed "serious" it meant it was classified as a "clinically important Traumatic Brain Injury (ciTBI)" that required the patient to either have neuro-surgery, at least two nights in hospital, or be placed on a breathing machine.

Top five sports behind serious head injuries in children:

  1. Bicycle riding (20)
  2. Skateboarding (8)
  3. Horse riding (7)
  4. Baseball/softball (3)
  5. Hockey (2)

Top five sports behind head injuries in children:

  1. Bicycle riding (494)
  2. Rugby (414)
  3. AFL (306)
  4. Football (no type specified) (291)
  5. Soccer (258)

The results have been published by the Australian Medical Journal.