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Youth Sports and Concussions

Submitted by Mary Ellen Biggerstaff, ARNP

Fall football season is here, with football season comes concerns around head injuries, which are common in football. One of the most common types of head injuries, especially in football and youth sports are concussions.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a hit to the head that causes the brain to bounce against the skull, sometimes resulting in a loss of consciousness, but not always. Concussions can be diagnosed by patient’s history and symptoms. Although concussions are usually not life threatening, they can be very serious. It is important for parents to understand the risks and symptoms of a concussion to help make sure their children get the treatment they need.

About 500,000 children suffer a concussion each year, with falls being the most common cause of injury. Athletes who show or report one or more of the signs and symptoms listed below, or simply say they just “don’t feel right” after a collision, blow, or jolt to the head or body, may have a concussion or other brain injury. Signs of a concussion can include changes in consciousness, behavior and problems with memory, speech and thinking problems, changes in emotions, headache, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and vomiting. Symptoms can show up hours or days after the injury. With post-concussion syndrome, these symptoms can last up to a year after the initial injury.

If you think your child may have suffered a concussion, it is very important to stop activity until a health care provider can clear them to continue activity. Do not try to evaluate the injury yourself. Your health care provider can help you create a HEADS up plan to decide how to help your child recover and when it is OK for your child to return to school, work and sports. These plans often involve brain rest and avoiding a lot of activity. Brain rest is defined as limiting mental activities that can inhibit the brain from healing and include making big decisions, driving, using tablets or other devices. Just as the effects of a concussion can be hard to recognize, it can be difficult to determine if a child is being too cognitively active or getting good brain rest.

These recommendations should be followed closely. It may not be necessary for you to have x-rays or CT scans, as a mild concussion can be diagnosed with a history and a physical examination. It is very important that a concussion not be ignored, because while the symptoms may go away and their own, there could be minor damage to the brain and we now know that multiple concussions can cause serious problems later on in life.

It is important to talk with young athletes and remind them of the seriousness of concussions. Some students think that reporting a concussion to coaches or parents can make them look weak or cause them to lose their position on the team. Help them understand that no helmets are concussion-proof, to avoid hits to the head and follow rules for safe and fair play.

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