When speaking of concussions, it doesn’t take long to talk about football. Over the past decade there’s been lots of discussion – and controversy – about the dangers of concussions in football players. But concussions don’t just happen in football – they can come about in almost any sport, and that’s a scary fact for parents. We caught up with Aaron Gardner, M.D. and Jeremy Hertzig, M.D., Pediatric Intensive Care Physicians at EIRMC to learn more about concussions in young athletes and what parents can do to help lower their risk.
Risk factors for a concussion in sports
According to Dr. Gardner, concussions tend to be more common among high school kids because teens have bigger, stronger bodies, but they can happen to kids of all ages, even as young as 5. Not surprisingly, concussions happen most in sports where there's increased opportunity for head contact. But just because a child doesn't play a contact sport doesn't mean they're off the hook. For kids and teens between ages 10-19, boys suffered traumatic brain injuries most often while playing football or bicycling, while girls had them most frequently in soccer or basketball games, or while bicycling.
Prevention methods to reduce odds of a concussion
There's no need to panic and take your athlete out of sports, though. While it's impossible to predict when a concussion will happen, there are ways to lower the risk of serious brain injury. Try these three tips:
Know what concussion symptoms look like and make sure your child knows that if he or she feels funny after a hit to the head, they should report it, rather than trying to “tough it out” or being embarrassed to speak up. "The best prevention tip is awareness among coaches, parents and the athlete, too. This is truly where a “team” mentality can help prevent; everyone should be on the same page about what to do when a concussion is suspected," says Dr. Hertzig.
Ensure that the correct protective equipment is being used
This statement comes with a warning: No piece of equipment can completely prevent a concussion. But it does help to have the proper equipment. A sturdy, well-fitting helmet is better than a loose one that could come off and up the risk for an even more traumatic brain injury.
Stress the importance of following safety rules of the sport
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages a "culture of safety" for children and their sports team. This means ensuring your child plays with good sportsmanship and follows the coach's directions for safety. For example, kids should learn safe tackling technique at the very beginning of youth football, and be taught to avoid dangerous practices like “spearing.”
What to do if you think your child has a concussion
Even following all precautionary guidelines, a child can still receive a concussion. Here's what to do if you think your child has a concussion from a sporting event.
Seek medical attention immediately
If there’s any reason to suspect a concussion, the child should be assessed by a qualified professional, an athletic trainer or physician, as soon as possible. If symptoms are severe, the ER may be your best bet.
Do not allow your child to return to play with a known or suspected concussion until they've been cleared by a healthcare professional
Returning to play too soon may potentially lead to more severe (and long-term) brain damage, a longer recovery time and even second impact syndrome. The CDC has very specific guidelines on how to return to school, and return to play. “Kids must be symptom-free for 24 hours before allowing even light practice. If that goes okay for 24 hours, they can advance to the next level of play. It generally takes a minimum of five days before a child will be back to normal athletic activity,” says Dr. Gardner.
Fill in coaches, teachers and doctors on your child or teen's concussion history
Telling adults who interact with your child on a daily basis about your child's history of concussions can help him or her with their recovery.
Remember that rest is best
Both Drs. Gardner and Hertzig emphasize that rest is the most important thing your child athlete can do to recover from a concussion.