Now that everyone in our area is back in school, many are contemplating playing a sport. More than half of all students participate in sports. You hear a lot about concussions being a concern in football but coaches say all athletes need to know their risk. As far as having an injury to the head such as a concussion, there is an increased knowledge of the effects of a brain injury. A concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the body, with a force transmitted to the head, causing an injury to the brain. Because kids are not fully physically developed, having thinner skulls and weaker neck muscles, they are more susceptible to concussions. Concussions have been estimated to account for 9 percent of all high school athletic injuries. However, it is estimated that 50 percent to 75 percent of concussions among high school athletes go unreported. What is most alarming in youth sports is that those 13 and younger are more likely to receive a concussion, and most of those are not reported.
Even though the hardest hits being easy to spot, Dr. Andrew Russman of Cleveland Clinic told WJHG Channel 7 that experts are now beginning to understand that the smaller hits may be just as dangerous in the long term. “There’s some increased concern that sub-concussive, that is, impacts to the head that do not result in a concussion, may not be so benign and they may not only sensitize us to future concussion, but there may be consequences of these when they occur repetitively over a long period of time,” says Dr. Russman. His opinion is supported by a recent study done at Boston University School of Medicine which indicates that youth who have repeated blows to the head (in this case by playing tackle football before the age of 12) may be more likely to develop CTE, which has been shown to lead to a loss of cognitive function for NFL players and boxers years or decades after they’ve retired.
For girls, the risk is doubled, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that evaluated concussion data for athletes in 25 high schools over an 11-year period. It found that girls had about twice the chance of getting a concussion as boys in the same or similar sport (baseball, softball, basketball, soccer). In fact, girls soccer had the second highest rate of concussions overall, ranking just below football.
Dr. Russman says that the risk of the long term impact from repetitive hits, even if they don’t result in immediate concussion, is actually more than when a player suffers a single concussion. Dr. Russman says that changes in rules that cover routine activities at the youth, high school, collegiate and even professional levels are reducing exposure for athletes from the repetitive injury that experts are most concerned about. Dr. Russman says that with any concussion, timely diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial for recovery and to help prevent more serious potential complications. Athletes must be 100 percent symptom-free before returning to play.
Once your child has started playing, become vigilant about head injuries. If you suspect your child has suffered a hit to the head, watch for these common symptoms of a concussion:
▪ Confusion or the feeling of being “in a fog.”
▪ Dizziness or balance problems.
▪ Fatigue or drowsiness.
▪ Nausea and/or vomiting.
▪ Sensitivity to light and noise.
▪ Irritability or nervousness.
▪ Trouble concentrating.
The nation’s growing awareness of concussions in the last 10 years has helped pass legislation to improve the treatment and management of concussions, especially in young athletes. State law requires parents, coaches, athletic trainers and, in some states, athletes to provide education about the symptoms and risks of a concussion. During athletic events, an athlete exhibiting concussive symptoms must be immediately taken out of play and is not allowed to return until they have received clearance from a medical professional.
If a concussion is left untreated or an athlete sustains multiple concussions, your child could suffer permanent brain injury. The inherent competitive nature of sports and culture to win at all costs may sometimes overshadow the need to call attention to reporting injuries. As a coach, parent, athlete and even a fan, we must encourage the reporting of head injuries within the sports culture. An athlete’s awareness of the signs, symptoms, and effects of a concussion can only improve the safety of our athletes. Educating all parties, particularly our youth athletes, has shown to increase concussion awareness and reporting, making it a vital component of sports safety this school year.