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Millions of Americans of all ages participate in sports and other recreational activities on a regular basis. While participating in such activities can benefit your health and that of your family, it can also put you at risk for traumatic injuries to the head.

The American Association of Neurosurgeons has compiled lists of the recreational activities estimated to produce the most head injuries, both generally among the population and specifically among children age 14 or younger. Though the lists are not identical, the top three sports are the same: cycling, football and baseball/softball.

Cycling

Bicycle-related injuries send approximately 500,000 Americans to the emergency room every year. Two-thirds of the estimated 600 deaths that occur annually in the United States due to bicycle accidents are the result of traumatic brain injuries.

More than any sport, bicycling accounts for more visits to the emergency room for children age 5 to 14. However, wearing a helmet may prevent up to 85 percent of bicycle-related head injuries.

Football

Football can put players at risk for catastrophic injuries of the brain or spinal cord.

The maneuvers of blocking and tackling pose a particular risk to the cervical spinal cord, which is the portion located in the neck. While a spinal cord injury at any level can be dangerous, cervical cord injuries can be particularly devastating because they can result in paralysis of the entire body below the level of injury.

Baseball and softball

The risk of head injury from participating in baseball or softball is greatest when batting.

You or your children can protect yourselves by wearing a batting helmet that fits well and has the approval of the American Society for Testing and Materials. Be careful not to return to action too quickly following a concussion, because baseball is also one of the sports with the highest risk for second-impact syndrome.