SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The issue of concussions and head injuries has become more and more relevant in both professional and youth sports with each passing case. As athletes become faster and hit harder, leading to more violent collisions, leagues are trying to get a better grasp of how to prevent these types of injuries from happening and learn more about head injuries in general.

UCSF Neurosurgeon Mitchel Berger serves as a concussion consultant for the National Football League. He said the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell are making head injuries a top priority.

“It was very clear over the past few years that the number of events was increasing and the commissioner really made this a very high priority for the league,” said Berger. “He wanted to get to the bottom of this, try to understand whether or not the true incidence was increasing or whether we were just much more aware of it because of the media.”

KCBS Interviews UCSF Neurosurgeon Mitchel Berger:

Berger said that while it may seem like there are more concussions reported recently, a lot of that has to do with players being more educated.

“One of the problems we have to deal with is that a lot of players just don’t want to talk about concussions. You have to realize that a lot of their contracts take into account how many games they play, whether they play the whole game. They don’t want to discuss this or impair their ability to play,” he said. “But the players today are also very different in that they have expressed a tremendous interest in learning about concussions. They are frightened about what this holds for them in the future.”

Berger said that in sports like football, the necessity of rule changes is much more important than improving equipment like helmets.

“It’s not an equipment problem. The equipment can only take this so far. Just like preventing a motorcycle accident or bicycle accident, the equipment is never going to get that good that it’s going to prevent the effects of a concussion,” said Berger. “I think this is going to come down to awareness and rule changes over time that make it a safer game.”

Berger said changes such as the new NFL kickoff rule and stiffer fines and penalties for illegal hits are a good start.

And he said at the lower levels, the danger and risk is just as great as for professional athletes. “The risk in younger players is that once you’ve had one concussion, the likelihood of having a second impact syndrome is significantly greater,” said Berger. “So after the concussion occurs, if a young player goes back too soon and has another concussion, they are much more susceptible than older players of having traumatic-induced brain edema and that can be fatal.”

Berger said through his studies, he has found that surprisingly, girl’s basketball has the highest concussion rate of any youth sport.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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