Protect Your Young Athlete from a Concussion
Number of concussions rising in organized team sports
Fall means football, and along with touchdowns and tailgates come, unfortunately, concussions, the occurrence of which is rising at an alarming rate among children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that, between 1997 and 2007, emergency room visits for concussions sustained in organized team sports doubled (from 3,946 to 7,791) among kids ages 8 to 13 and more than tripled (from 7,276 to 23,239) for youths ages 14 to 19.
Soccer, bicycling, basketball, playground activities, and especially football account for many of the concussions among young people between ages 5 to 18, according to the Brain Injury Association of America. They also report that an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. Awareness and a proactive attitude are the best ways to protect your child from the dangers of a concussion while still allowing them to enjoy their favorite sports.
“Teenagers and younger children are more at risk for severe concussions as their brains are not fully developed and are thus more vulnerable,” says Jon Siegel, program director of i9 Sports of Central Montgomery,which offers youth sports programs in flag football, soccer, cheerleading, T-ball, baseball, and basketball in Rockville and Bethesda.
Short of forbidding your child from participating in their beloved autumn sports, the number one precaution that parents can take to lessen the chance that their child suffers a concussion is to make sure kids are properly equipped and wearing their helmets and mouth guards correctly. While a mouth guard does protect teeth, “Their top safety value is to prevent concussions,” says Siegel. “Properly used, mouth guards absorb shock from hits under the chin and stop or limit the blow from advancing to the brain.”
Smart play is also a big factor in limiting concussions. “Stay hydrated, stay alert, and avoid overexertion,” Siegel explains. “Play by the rules and try to avoid any contact with your head. Any blow to the head is a potential concussion even if it is not necessarily contact with another player,” says Siegel.
Not sure if your child has a concussion? Look for signs of disorientation, dilated pupils, stumbling, wooziness, and memory loss. “If you have to evaluate, chances are there is a legitimate concern,” says Siegel. Always err on the side of caution to avoid risking a more serious and permanent injury. Have the player sit out and seek the opinion of a health care professional immediately for an evaluation. “It generally takes two full weeks or more before a concussion fully heals,” says Siegel. “Head injuries are very serious and can cause severe damage to a child's brain. It is much better to sit out a day or a few weeks than risk a serious and possibly permanent brain injury.”
i9 Sports has begun a local awareness movement called “Stop Youth Concussions Crusade” to help educate players and parents about the dangers of concussions and the prevention of them. And in an effort to create an even greater standard of safety, the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine has recently called for all teen athletes to be tested for concussions as a baseline analysis before the sports season begins so they can be accurately diagnosed if they suffer a concussion during a game.