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Study finds concussions prevalent in water polo

A new study has found that more than one-third of water polo players have suffered at least one concussion during their careers.

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen 
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

The study, conducted by the Department of Neurology and UC Irvine’s Exercise Medicine & Sport Sciences Initiative, polled more than 1,500 USA Water Polo members, focusing on head injuries and related symptoms. The survey revealed that 36% of water polo players reported sustaining a concussion either during games or practice.

Of the respondents, 30.8% of men reported suffering a concussion, compared to 43.5% of women.

From UC Irvine:

Among player positions, goalies logged the highest rate of head injury. 47% percent said they’d suffered at least one concussion, with an average of 2.49 concussions per person. A majority of these head traumas occurred during practice rather than games, when defensive players are present and interposed between offensive players and goalies.

Of respondents whose highest competition level was in high school, 31% noted at least one concussion, with an average of 1.58 per player. Of those whose highest level was in college, 51.3% had experienced at least one concussion, with a per-person average of 2.29. Among those who reached the masters club level, 43.1% disclosed at least one concussion, with a per-player average of 2.52.

“These numbers suggest that playing water polo carries a significant risk of concussion,” said Dr. Steven L. Small, professor and chair of neurology at UC Irvine. “Our results speak to the need for systematic concussion reporting in water polo. Particularly important is reporting for individuals at the college level, who have the highest prevalence of concussion.”

Awareness of concussions has grown in recent years, but most of the attention has focused on football. Though the findings in UC Irvine’s water polo study are alarming, researchers noted several limitations, including the fact that fewer than 4% of U.S. water polo players participated.

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