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, which can be a scary fact for any parent, caregiver or coach. A. Gabriel Schifman, D.O., Medical Director of the Pediatric ER at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, explains concussions in young athletes and what parents can do to help lower their risk.
Risk factors for a concussion in sports
Dr. Schifman says 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 age 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.
Essentially, though, concussions can happen in any sport. “I’ve seen it happen where a kid in track and field fell over a hurdle and hit their head. Or do a high jump and miss a pit and land on their head – so there’s all sorts of possibilities,” says Dr. Schifman.
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:
Practice awareness. 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. “Awareness is honestly the biggest prevention tip. Creating awareness from coaches, parents and within the athlete as well. So don’t worry about the sport, worry about the player,” says Dr. Schifman.
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 football 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. “Kids have to be able to go back into school without symptoms occurring before they’re allowed into a supervised ‘return to play protocol,’” says Dr. Schifman.
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. Dr. Schifman emphasizes that rest is the most important thing your child athlete can do to recover from a concussion.