This is a great time of year. School sports are under way, and who isn’t excited? School sports at every age have so many pluses. It’s a healthy outlet that keeps kids in shape and teaches important life lessons about respecting others, playing fairly, setting goals, following rules, dealing with frustration, working together as a team, learning to be a good loser as well as a good winner, and getting a real sense of earning your way.
Like life, you get out of sports what you put into it. The list of benefits goes on and on, but school sports also carry risks, and one of the biggest is the risk of concussion.
We’ve all heard the comments. “He got his bell rung.” “She got a ding.” It sounds innocent enough, but the statistics are eye-opening. In the last decade, there has been a 60 percent increase in emergency room visits for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injury, including concussions for children and adolescents.
In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that a young athlete between the ages of 7 and 19 is taken to the emergency room for a concussion every three minutes. What’s more, Safe Kids Worldwide has been analyzing the numbers, and they found that nearly half of emergency room visits for concussions were for young athletes between the ages of 12 and 15.
The Sports Institute also reports that females are more likely to sustain a concussion than males, and it takes them longer to recover.
The reality is, whether the young athlete in your family is into football, wrestling, lacrosse, track, dance, soccer or cheerleading, you need to think about concussions and their serious repercussions, because their occurrence isn’t limited to contact sports.
So serious are the repercussions that 42 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed laws regarding concussions in sports for young athletes. As a parent, you need the facts.
Concussions are brain injuries that can be caused by a blow or a bump to the head. However, they can also be caused from a hit or fall that jolts the body, because those often result in the head quickly moving back and forth.
Contrary to a popular misconception, most concussions don’t result in a loss of consciousness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that parents and coaches have to be observant and, if they see a change in the way an athlete functions, is behaving or thinking, this is a strong sign that a concussion has occurred.
Typical symptoms that a parent or a coach might observe include a player appearing dazed, confused about the position they are playing, forgetting instructions, answering questions slowly, who can’t recall events before or after a hit or fall, or losing consciousness — even for a moment.
Coaches, as well as parents, need to be keenly aware of what their player is telling them, too. If a young athlete is reporting a headache or a feeling of pressure in the head, is experiencing nausea or vomiting, has problems with dizziness or balance, has sensitivity to light or noise, reports blurred or double vision, a feeling of being foggy or sluggish, has confusion or concentration and memory problems, or just reports “feeling down” or doesn’t “feel right,” these are red flags.
It is important that, from the moment that injury occurs, an athlete experiencing any of these symptoms or displaying any of these signs of injury should be kept out of play until they have been seen by a medical professional.
Always keep in mind that some athletes don’t experience symptoms until hours after they’ve suffered an injury. Many athletes won’t report them for as long as possible, because they don’t want to be pulled out of practice or a game. That’s why coaches and parents need to be on top of their game and not dismissing the potential for serious injury just because you can’t “see” a concussion.
Go to an emergency room or contact your doctor immediately. A medical professional will conduct a thorough evaluation, and they should be the only one — not the kids, not the coaches, not even you — who makes the call on when it’s OK to return to play. While most athletes recover quickly and have a complete recovery, others aren’t so lucky. Some can have symptoms that last for days or weeks or much longer.
There’s real reason for concern. New research indicates that, the younger the athlete, the more lasting the impact on cognitive ability, with lingering effects on short-term memory. Just this year, the University of Oregon studies athletes injured in football, volleyball and soccer. These high-schoolers had trouble with focusing and other problems for as long as two months after their concussion.
The impact on learning and other abilities is just being realized, and we have all seen the stories about NFL players whose after-sports lives have been dramatically impacted from brain injury resulting from repeated blows in that high-impact sport.
Research now indicates that, for every concussion an athlete experiences, the likelihood of another concussion increases substantially. It is one to two times more likely for a second, two to four times more likely for a third, and three to nine times more likely for a fourth to occur.
So what should you take away from all this? Let your kids play, but work with coaches or the club or center supervising play to teach and emphasize safe playing techniques. Let’s make it more than a cliché to encourage kids to play by the rules, be good sports and forget about cheap shots. No one wins, and someone could lose big. Finally, as a parent, pay attention and be an advocate.
If you have a question, give me a call. It may take me a bit to get back to you because I am with patients, but I will get back to you.
Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy He can be-reached by calling (302) 537-7260.