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Sports Concussions: What Parents Should Know

 |  General

After Covid cancellations affected sports last fall, many student-athletes are looking forward to this new school year. With coronavirus cases surging again, it could be another challenging year. While much of the focus has been on keeping everyone safe from the virus, another health topic also deserves attention: sports concussions. A concussion is a mild brain injury. A single concussion can cause symptoms for a few weeks, but repeated concussions, particularly without time to heal between injuries can lead to permanent brain damage 

While high school sports are exhilarating, many contact sports, such as football, soccer, hockey, and wrestling, involve a risk of concussion. One study revealed that boys’ sports accounted for 53% of athlete-exposures and 75% of all concussions. Football accounted for more than half of all concussions, and girls’ soccer had the most concussions among the girls’ sports. Nearly one in four American teens has suffered at least one concussion, according to new research. And, nearly half a million kids — more boys than girls — visit an emergency room for a brain injury each year.

What is a Concussion?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes a concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, that happens when a blow to the head or body causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce and twist around inside the skull, stretching and damaging the delicate cells and structures inside the brain. This damage can cause physical and chemical changes in the brain, affecting how it functions.

Concussions are typically classified based on severity, with the amount of time unconscious and the presence of confusion being considered as the defining features:

  • Grade 1: Also known as a “ding concussion,” there is no loss of consciousness, and any symptoms resolve within 15 minutes.
  • Grade 2: There is no loss of consciousness, but other symptoms, such as confusion or dizziness, persist for longer than 15 minutes.
  • Grade 3: The most severe concussion includes a loss of consciousness, with symptoms persisting longer than 15 minutes.

Prevention

Preventing a concussion is always best. The good news is that more coaches and sports organizations are taking steps to prevent concussions, both in practice and in games. In addition, helmets and other protective gear have improved.  It is also important to remember protective gear for other activities like bike riding and skateboarding.

Common Symptoms

A concussion can affect memory, judgment, reflexes, speech, balance, and muscle coordination. Even mild concussions should not be taken lightly, especially with kids.

One study found that the changes in a child’s brain often outlast symptoms like decreased reaction times, memory and concentration problems, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue. Coaches and parents may think kids are fine to return to playing, when in fact they may be vulnerable to reinjury. This is dangerous because another blow to the head, while the initial concussion is healing, can result in longer-lasting or more severe symptoms.

Some common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty with thinking skills, such as memory and attention
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears

Kids with TBI can have more trouble learning. They may also struggle with behavioral and emotional problems. A recent study found that 1 in 9 kids develop mental health issues after a concussion. Among the most common symptoms were depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.

How Treatment Has Changed

Any child with a suspected concussion should be removed from play and avoid any other activities that could lead to a second injury while the brain is in a vulnerable state.  They should follow the required concussion protocol to avoid second impact syndrome.   Experts now recommend easing back into physical and mental activity, gradually adding exercise and screen time after 24-48 hours of rest. Although your child may be frustrated by the limitations, parents should remember that this is important to protect long-term health. 

Our primary physicians at Bayless Integrated Healthcare can help diagnose concussions and provide integrated care that will help kids and teens heal physically and mentally. For a free 15-minute wellness consultation, call 602-777-6337 or click here to make an appointment online. Remember, if you are experiencing a crisis, please call 911 immediately.