*Today’s post is sponsored by NATA, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. All opinions are my own.*
The impact concussions can have on athletes who play American football is a hot topic for athletes and non-athletes alike.
As NFL players have become more vocal about the injuries and damage their brains have suffered, and more awareness is brought to the danger of mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (mTBIs) and concussions, people are starting to take a tougher look at youth sports and the techniques and protocols they’re using to keep kids safe.
As a mom to a youth football player, naturally this topic is one I choose to focus on quite a bit as well. I have been advocating for safer practices among football teams since I joined the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee several years ago, and I continue to work in this space by educating parents and other adults who interact with youth athletes on how we can make changes to keep kids safe while engaging in sports.
I recently partnered with the National Athletic Trainer’s Association and A Safer Approach to moderate a session about concussion facts for parents on Facebook Live. I interviewed Katie Susskind, Assistant Athletic Trainer at Stanford University and Lauren Hoyt, Athletic Trainer at Victor Valley Union High School, who provided some very informative and useful concussion facts and information about youth athletes and concussions.
However, this discussion is about more than child athletes—it’s about all children—because there are several ways children can and do sustain concussions on a daily basis. The CDC reports that falls down stairs, bike and skateboard accidents, playground incidents,motor vehicle crashes, and other accidents combine with injuries sustained in sports and other recreational activities to send millions of youngsters in search of treatment for traumatic brain injuries each year. , Whether your child is involved in organized sports are not, it’s important for all parents to educate themselves on concussion facts and how concussions impact your child’s brain.
There are countless resources online to help you learn concussion facts and I’ve pulled together some that can help you understand concussions, what they look like, what they are, how they should be treated, and what you can do to advocate for safer practices and speed your child back to health safely should they suffer one.
Youth Sports Safety: 40 Real Concussion Facts Parents Need to Know
Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury.
They are caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.
The blow doesn’t have to be exceptionally hard.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a direct hit to the head.
Concussions are a result of the brain bouncing around or twisting in the skull and the creation of chemical changes in the brain that stretches and damages brain cells when this occurs.
Concussions are usually not life threatening.
But, they are serious.
They are classified as minor brain injuries, but they can cause permanent damage and they can be fatal.
Concussions are often diagnosed following an injury that would cause suspicion by the signs observed by caretakers and the symptoms reported by the patient.
Those suffering a concussion can have many symptoms or they may only have a few.
Every concussion is different in severity and everyone’s brain reacts differently to concussions. If your child is suffering from a concussion, they may describe the following feelings:
Headaches or pressure in head, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, or blurred vision. They may feel sluggish or slow. They may have trouble concentrating or focusing on things, and many will say they forget things. Some kids note that they just don’t feel right.
Signs of a concussion are those things others can see and may include:
In some cases, your child may lose consciousness and/or suffer amnesia regarding things just prior to or just after the injury. They may seem dazed, forgetful, clumsy, and slow. They may exhibit changes in mood, behavior, an/or personality. The best people to indicate that a child may have a concussion are those who know the child and their normal mannerisms/behaviors. Coaches, teachers, family members, and other athletes should know the signs and symptoms of concussions and be encouraged to report when they see or feel them. You can learn more about the signs and symptoms of a concussion here: CDC Signs & Symptoms of a Concussion Chart
It can take many hours or even days for concussion symptoms to appear following an injury.
Because concussions can not be diagnosed with imaging, baseline testing is an important tool.
Baseline tests are used to assess an athlete’s balance and brain function (including learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly he or she thinks and solve problems) prior to a concussion. The idea is to have a baseline of what is normal for your child so that the results from a normal exam can be compared to those gathered when an athlete sustains and injury that may have resulted in a concussion. It is a comparative tool used to detect changes in brain function/performance.
It is recommended that baseline testing for concussions is done annually for athletes.
You can learn more about why these tests are important and how they work here: CDC FAQs on Baseline Testing
imPact is a baseline test used widely by medical professionals and athletic trainers at schools.
You can learn more about that test here: Impact Baseline Testing
Concussions and Kids
Young children get concussions more easily than adults.
Their brains are less developed and so are their neck muscles making them easier to hurt and less protected than adults with more developed bodies.
Concussions may affect girls and boys differently.
Both male and female athletes tend to report headache as their most prevalent symptom, but girls seem to be more suceptble to loud noises while boys report a higher incidence of amnesia. Read more here: Concussion Symptoms May Differ in Girls and Boys
Female athletes tend to suffer a higher percentage of concussions compared to males.
But, researchers have found that girls are suffering concussions at alarming rates.
A recent study noted that girls’ soccer has the highest rate of concussions and TBI among all sports –it’s even higher than tackle football! Read more here: New study shows that girls soccer has higher per capita rate of concussions than any other sport
Concussions in Sports
Sports are not the leading cause of mTBIs.
They are just one of the many causes. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, other types of accidents, and assault cause more concussions than youth sports. However, while you can’t really prevent or predict a fall or motor vehicle accident, concussions sustained in sports can often be reduced or mitigated by behavior changes. Also, sports are supposed to be fun and healthy for children and, if they are sustaining life altering injuries at high rates, this is quickly called into question.
But they are a major concern for athletes and parents.
The number of concussions being reported has skyrocketed in recent years. Much of this has to do with awareness campaigns that have helped educate coaches and parents and encourage reporting and the seeking of treatment for these injuries. That said, the rate that youth are sustaining concussions in sports and other recreational activities is staggering.
And, the danger increases as children age.
In ages 15-24, sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury. Find more stats here: Youth Brain Injury Statistics
Football isn’t the only danger,
While football is the sport we hear most about, other sports, those considered contact (wrestling, lacrosse, etc) and those not (soccer, basketball, etc) are reporting concussions at alarming rates as well. In fact, as previously mentioned, girls’ soccer reports a higher per capita concussion rate than tackle football. It has also been reported that boys’ soccer players suffer concussions at about the same rate as tackle football players.
But, all contact sports report significant injury rates.
Ten-percent of those who play contact sports sustain head injuries each year.
When Your Child Has a Concussion
If you suspect your child has suffered a concussion, it’s important that you take them to a doctor immediately.
You should not diagnose or treat a concussion at home alone.
If your child is diagnosed with a concussion, be sure you follow their guidelines to recovery precisely.
Brain injuries require brain rest to heal. That means you can’t do things like watch TV or sue your phone. Playing video games or using your computer is discouraged as well. You also may need to keep your child home from school for a bit since concentrating at school is brain work and being in the school environment can be noisy and overwhelming –two things you want to avoid when healing from a concussion.
Children should be 100% symptom free before returning to school or sports.
Once your child has been approved to return to school, they may need to take it slow.
A modified work schedule and support with assignments, possibly even a modified attendance schedule may be required to help your child transition back into the classroom.
And the same goes for sports.
Once your child has successfully returned to school, they can also begin to introduce sports back into their lives.
Your athletics program and coaches should have a return to play protocol.
This is what they follow to gradually reintroduce your child back into play following a concussion. Here is some information about what that may look like: Graduated Return to Sports Plan
Once you’ve had a concussion, you are more likely to sustain another.
It is important that your child not be allowed to return to play until they’ve healed from a concussion.
If you allow your child to return to play after sustaining a concussion before they’ve healed completely, you put them in danger of suffering what’s called second impact syndrome, acute swelling of the brain that occurs when a second concussion is sustained before healing from the first.
This can be fatal.
The CDC has released guidelines to help doctors better treat concussions in kids.
These 19 sets of recommendations were created to address the overwhelming number of mTBIs doctors are seeing each year. These guidelines should help inform providers and equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure the best outcomes for children suffering from concussions.
The CDC’s concussion guidelines included five practice changing recommendations:
- Doctors should not routinely image patients to diagnose a mild traumatic brain injury.
- Doctors should use age-appropriate symptom scales to diagnose a concussion.
- Patients should be assessed for risk factors for prolonged recovery (history of concussion, severity of injury, etc.)
- Parents and patients should be given instructions on returning to activity customized to their symptoms.
- Children should be instructed to return gradually to non-sports activities after no more than two to three days of rest.
You can read the new guidelines here: CDC Issues Concussion Treatment Guidelines
Safety and Prevention of Concussions in Sports
Play for teams that put athletes and their safety first, above winning.
The most important factor for having a safe play environment for children is that there is a culture that supports the health and safety of the athlete over everything else, including the desire to win. In organizations that value their players beyond what they can do for them in a game setting, children receive better care, treatment, direction, and support for making safe and healthy choices.
Things like following the rules, having good sportsmanship, making safe plays, having fun, learning about overall health and fitness, and using good technique should be at the forefront of your organization.
Young athletes should be taught safer techniques.
There have been many new drills developed and rules installed to keep young players safer when they play sports.
Rules and guidelines should be put in place to encourage safer practices.
For example, the kicking rule change instituted in Ivy League at the collegiate level, and the US Soccer guidelines that recommend that heading be prohibited for athletes under 10, and that it only be allowed at practice for those 11 to 13.
Build concussion awareness among your players and their parents.
So players and athletes are familiar with the signs and symptoms and can accurately report them.
And, encourage reporting.
Athletes should be encouraged to report injuries and should not be afraid of suffering consequences like lost playing time for suffering an injury.
Many states have laws in place to help guide concussion protocol and protect children as well.
You can find yours here: State Concussion Laws
Myths About Concussions
Myth: If you didn’t lose consciousness, you don’t have a concussion.
Truth: You do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion. You don’t even need to get hit in the head. Concussions come from the brain moving around in your school and any hit that causes that, like a hit from the back that results in your head experiencing a whiplash movement, can cause one.
Myth: The CT-scan came back clear so your child doesn’t have a concussion.
Truth: Imaging, like CT-scans, can not detect a concussion.
Myth: You can return to play in two weeks.
Truth: There is no set recovery time. Two weeks may be more than enough time for some, and not enough for others. It’s important you follow your doctor’s instructions and pay attention to symptoms to determine when your child is ready to gradually return to school and other activities.
Myth: Helmets protect your child from concussions.
Truth: Helmets are made to prevent skull fractures and offer no protection whatsoever from concussions. In fact, no product on the market can prevent a concussion.
Want to know the real impact concussions can have on a youth athlete? Check out this post: National Athletic Trainer’s Association