Top Five Things Parents Should Know About Concussions
For every kid eager to hit the gridiron, there’s a parent anxious about what might happen to him. Injuries can be par for the course with any physical activity, and chances are, you know someone (or are someone) who has experienced a concussion, a brain injury caused by a mild blow or jolt to the head. Thankfully, with increased information, many brain injuries that take place are now being properly diagnosed. Here’s what you need to be aware of as your child gets ready to hit the field.
Concussions Are on the Rise … or Are They?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that head injuries in children are on the rise, surging over 60 percent in the past 10 years. Most of these injuries are sustained doing recreational activities such as sports. Why the spike? Some argue that it may have something to do with the fact that children are now playing organized sports at unprecedented rates, many of which are year round. That, coupled with a heightened awareness about concussions, means that kids are being diagnosed with concussions more than ever before. Are concussions really on the rise? Possibly. But more than likely, head injuries that would have been shrugged off as no big deal are now being assessed more properly for signs of traumatic brain injury (TBI). And parents can take heart knowing that, statistically, the number of children that get injured within the population that plays organized sports is extremely low.
Symptoms Might Not Be What You Think
Many people erroneously think that a concussion can’t be sustained unless an athlete loses consciousness. Interestingly, only 10 percent of those who experience a concussion black out. Because every brain injury is unique, reactions to it can be as well. However, Dr. Brian Harvey of Children’s Mercy’s Sports Medicine Center says one tell-tale sign impacts almost all concussion recipients: headache. “The number one symptom an athlete experiences after sustaining a concussion is a headache,” Harvey says. “More than 90 percent of concussions will have a headache. That means there are some athletes, 10 percent or so, who experience more dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty with concentration or focus as their predominant symptom. Any or all of these symptoms could worsen with physical or mental activity and may indicate the athlete has suffered a concussion. It is important to be evaluated if there is a concern for a concussion.”
Certain Sports Have Greater Risks
Football gets a bad rap for being a sport that comes with a high risk for concussions and brain-related injuries. The Head Case Company, an organization dedicated to protecting young athletes from head injuries, notes this concern isn’t without cause. More than 47 percent of all sports-related concussions, in fact, take place during high school football season. Other contact sports fall closely behind, including hockey, lacrosse, soccer and wrestling. But no one is exempt from risk, including cheerleaders, dancers, bikers or simply a gaggle of kids running around the playground.
Because of this, there’s truly no way to protect your child from every risk. So, what should parents do? “My advice for parents would be to encourage their kids to play sports!” Dr. Harvey assures. “There is a risk for any injury, not just concussions, in any sport we play. Don't shy away from contact sports simply due to the concussion risk. I have seen concussions in just about every sport out there. We do not currently know the long-term consequences. We just don't have enough research to definitively say: Stay away from contact sports. Thankfully, there is a lot of research going on currently to help us answer this question, but I suggest letting the science catch up before making a judgment on the long-term consequences.”
Recovery Protocol Has Changed
Recovery will look different for every patient, every concussion and every situation.
It used to be that concussions were generally treated by keeping a patient at rest for long periods of time. But new research indicates that stimulation can actually help blood flow and recovery. Dr. David Marshall, director of Sports Medicine Program of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, states that 95 percent of the time, people who sustain a concussion make a full recovery within three weeks. Harvey agrees, noting that 24 to 48 hours of rest can be truly beneficial, but after that, the goal is to acclimate into a normal routine at a rate that doesn’t exacerbate symptoms. “Even exercise, as long as it doesn't worsen symptoms (no lifting, contact sports or practice), has recently been shown to decrease symptom duration,” Harvey says. He recommends all athletes go through a graded return to play, once they have no symptoms for 24 hours, under the direct supervision of an athletic trainer if available.
There’s truly no way to prevent all concussions from taking place, but parents, coaches and athletes can do their part to mitigate risks. Coaches can start by instructing athletes on proper technique and form when playing sports. Athletes should be fitted and wear all proper safety equipment, as well as abide by the rules and report all concussion symptoms. Parents can keep a watchful eye and take children in for a proper evaluation should symptoms arise.
Who’s at Greatest Risk?
- Females (compared to male counterparts)
- Younger children (due to underdeveloped brains)
- Those with previous concussions or TBIs
- Athletes during games (opposed to during practice)
Lauren Greenlee is a freelance writer, KC sports enthusiast and mom of three. She writes and resides in Olathe.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.