Whether your kids play football, baseball, basketball, soccer, field or ice hockey, or participate in wrestling or cheerleading, concussions in sports are a real risk.
“A concussion is a serious head injury. When the brain is violently rocked back and forth inside the skull from a blow to the head or the body, normal brain function becomes temporarily disrupted. Repeated concussions can be particularly dangerous,” said Melinda Adam, PT, DPT, OCS, director of rehabilitation and sports medicine at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) says children are more likely than adults to sustain concussions and require longer time to recover from them. Most are caused by player-to-player contact, although hitting the ground or an object in the field of play can also cause a concussion.
A recent report found concussion diagnoses among children and young adults up to 22 years old increased 500 percent from 2010 to 2014. Back-to-school correlates with a rise in these injuries, with September and October registering the greatest number of concussions. Generally, boys incur more concussions than girls.
In addition, a study in the journal Pediatrics estimates between 1.1 million and 1.9 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. in children under 18 — and many of these are left untreated.
How to Identify Concussions
The AAN advises parents and athletes to watch for these signs and symptoms of concussion in someone else:
- Behavior or personality changes
- A blank stare or dazed look
- Changes to balance, coordination and reaction time
- Delayed or slowed spoken or physical responses
- Loss of consciousness (occurs in less than 10 percent of cases)
In addition, the athlete suffering the concussion may experience:
- Blurred or double vision
- Inability to focus
- Sensitivity to light or sound
Responding to Concussions
Because concussions in sports occur relatively frequently, it makes sense for those supervising athletes to develop and utilize a sensible concussion prevention plan. If a parent or coach suspects an athlete has had a concussion, the CDC advises:
- Removing them from play
- Keeping them out of play on that same day until a health care provider clears them after a careful assessment of symptoms
- Recording and sharing information about the injury to the health care provider
- Asking for written instructions regarding when the child can return to play
Prevention Pays Off
The first preventative step parents and coaches can take is talking to kids about how to avoid concussions.
One key point to remember is that there’s no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet. Helmets are designed to prevent catastrophic injuries to the head, such as a skull fracture. Parents of athletes should take care to choose a helmet made specifically for their child’s activity, ensure that it fits well, is well-maintained, worn consistently and is appropriately certified for use — but they should also teach them the principles of safe sport.
Coaches should examine the playing field to check for uneven ground or holes. They should also make it easy for everyone to talk openly and ask questions about concussions in sports, along with serious brain injury.
The risk of concussion shouldn’t be taken lightly, but with heightened awareness and preventative measures in place, children can play more safely, no matter the sport.
Talk to a Lahey Health physician about how to keep your kids safe this sports season.