The Center for Disease Control estimates there are nearly 3.8 million incidences of sport related concussion each year, and the vast majority occur in high school athletes. There are literally thousands of youth concussions for every concussion that occurs in professional sports, so we owe it to our youth athletes to educate ourselves about this health issue.
A concussion is essentially a mild traumatic brain injury, typically caused by an impact to the head sufficient to change the way the brain normally works. To parents, coaches, and teammates, the possibility that a youth has had a concussion raises many questions and concerns: How do I know the athlete has had a concussion? What do I do now? When is it safe to return to play?
There are a wide variety of symptoms that may indicate a concussion. Signs and symptoms of concussion can show up right after the injury or may not appear or be noticed until days after the injury.
Some of the more common symptoms are listed below. It’s critical for leaders of youth sports to be aware of these symptoms. While the majority of concussions eventually resolve without lasting effects, it is potentially dangerous to allow an athlete to continue to play after sustaining a concussion, and it’s estimated that 50% of athletes who experience a concussion will fail to report, or attempt to minimize the symptoms. Typical symptoms may include the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty following directions
- Slowed reaction time
- Fatigue or insomnia
- Headaches, nausea, blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Changes in behavior
- Reduced tolerance to stress and/or busy environments
- Disoriented/impaired memory/can’t recall events just prior to or after the injury
What to do
If you suspect a concussion due to observed or reported symptoms, remove the athlete from play for the remainder of the event. The question of when an athlete can return to play in future events is more difficult to determine, but there are some standard guidelines that should be followed:
Most importantly, consult with a medical professional before return to play, preferably a physician experienced in working with concussion/brain injury. Athletes should not return to play until the physician clears the athlete to return.
Many schools now do a preseason computerized screening of reaction time, attention, and other thinking skills, and will not allow return to play until scores return to baseline.
Before return to play, the athlete should be without any post-concussion symptoms at rest, and aerobic exercise should not increase symptoms.
Of course the best way to manage the impact of concussions is to prevent one from occurring in the first place and to limit further risks if a concussion does occur. Some common sense suggestions for preventing concussions in youth include:
Educating athletes about the signs, symptoms, and risks of continuing to play with a concussion;
- Always following the safety rules of the sport;
- Always wearing protective equipment that is properly fitted when playing sports;
- Always wearing a helmet when engaging in activities such as cycling, skateboarding, ski-boarding, riding a horse, ATV, or motorcycle.
By Matthew Lilly, Program Manager at Total Rehab Care