Concussions In Youth Sports: A Guide For Concerned Parents

Many children engage in recreational sports. Bumps and bruises are expected on occasion, but what if your child suffers a more serious injury that can cause a concussion? How can you tell a minor head bump from a more serious one that has the potential for causing a concussion? What should you do if you suspect your child may be suffering from a concussion? If your child participates in youth sports, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of a concussion and understand what you can do to protect your child from a head injury.

What Is A Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury, and one of the most common ways to sustain a concussion is through a sports injury. A simple blow to the head can cause a concussion, even if the signs and symptoms don’t appear right away. When a person suffers a bang on the head, the brain can be jostled, resulting in bruising or damage to the blood vessels. This temporary deficit to normal brain function is known as a concussion.

There are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of your child suffering a concussion if he or she is involved in youth sports:

  • Participating in high-contact, organized sports like football, hockey, soccer and boxing
  • Participating in high-contact sports, regardless of the use of protective head wear
  • Having had a prior concussion or other head injury

High Risk Sports

In recent years, the number of visits to the emergency room for children who were suspected of suffering a concussion has increased. This may be partially due to an increased awareness in parents and their ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

Among high school students who participate in sports, concussions occur most often in those who participate in contact sports. Concussions most commonly occur in contact sports due to direct contact with an opponent, the head hitting the ground, contact with a piece of sports equipment, or contact with an object that is on the playing field.

Football carries the highest risk for concussions of all high school sports in males. In females, the highest risk sport for concussions in high school is soccer. For younger children ages, the sports or activities that carry the highest risk for concussion are:

  • Bicycling
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Playground activities
  • Soccer

Other high risk sports for children of all ages include:

  • Ice hockey
  • Rugby
  • Lacrosse
  • Wrestling
  • Basketball
  • Field hockey
  • Cheerleading
  • Baseball

How Young Is Too Young For Contact Sports

Many parents wonder when their child is at the appropriate age to participate in contact sports. Some parents believe it is best to wait until children are at least 7 or 8 years old, when their balance and coordination have improved and they are better able to understand the concept of team play.

Other parents see no harm in starting children out a bit younger, as early as 4 years old. There are some tots sports programs designed for children as young as 3 years old, whose main purpose is to introduce the child to team play and provide instruction in the rules of the game.

While there is no clearly defined age that is considered safe and appropriate for a child to participate in contact sports, most physicians and professional agree that by the age of 8, many children are able to handle the physical demands of participating in a contact sport.

Signs And Symptoms To Watch Out For

Concussions can be mild to severe, and are not visible to the eye. In some cases it can take several hours, even days for symptoms to arise. Any child that suffers a blow to the head during a game or sports practice should be removed from play and observed for signs of concussion. Common signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded following a blow to the head
  • Having difficulty remembering what happened just prior to the injury
  • Has trouble remembering position or assignment in game play
  • Can’t remember game score or opponent
  • Has difficulty answering questions
  • Seems to move about clumsily
  • Experiences nausea or vomiting
  • Has a headache
  • Is sensitive to light
  • Has difficulty remembering anything that took place after the injury
  • Experiences blurred vision
  • Coordination is off, cannot catch a ball
  • Seems irritable
  • Seems very tired

What to Do if Your Child Suffers a Concussion

If you suspect that your child may have a concussion, it is important to contact your doctor immediately. The doctor will want to know how the head injury occurred and what symptoms your child is exhibiting. In addition, your doctor will test your child’s memory by asking such questions as “who is the president?” or “what year is it?” A thorough physical and neurological exam will also likely be performed. Your doctor will test skills such as:

  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Reaction time
  • Concentration

Your doctor may also order an imaging test be done to rule out any bleeding within the brain. Imaging tests include:

  • CT Scan
  • MRI

If the concussion appears to be serious, hospitalization may be required. If the concussion does not require hospitalization, your child will need to be monitored at home for any worsening symptoms. Contact the doctor immediately if any of the following symptoms occur while at home:

  • The child is not easily woken up; the child should be aroused from sleep each hour
  • Is vomiting
  • Has become more disoriented

In addition to close monitoring, a child who has a concussion may be given acetaminophen for headaches and will need to get plenty of rest. If symptoms persist for longer than one-week, further evaluation by a neurologist may be necessary. A child with a concussion should avoid the following:

  • Busy, loud or brightly lit environments
  • Activities that require concentration or thinking
  • School
  • Physical activities and sports

Considerations

Concussions require time to mend. Even if your child says he feels better, it is imperative that you keep him out of sports and activities until the doctor’s clearance is given. Additionally, notify your child’s current and subsequent coaches that there is a history of concussion. If your child gets reinjured while he is not fully healed, this could pose long-term problems and result in permanent brain damage.

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