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Concussions in Youth Sports
Concussions have gained a lot of attention in recent years. In April 2011, former NFL players sued the league over the long term damage suffered from repeated concussions throughout their careers. The lawsuit was the first of its kind, and brought the issue of concussions into the spotlight. Between the time the lawsuit was filed and when it was finally settled in April 2015, the general public learned a lot about the repercussions of concussions as the legal battle played out through the media. Later in 2015, the movie "Concussion" came out recounting the whole ordeal and followed the story of Neuropathologist Bennett Omalu who identified Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head trauma.
While the movie and the media coverage that preceded it was focused on concussions in grown men who played professional sports, a lot of the discussion focused on the amount of blows to the head they had received from playing football all their lives, not just as adults. The focus shifted to the children who are playing football right now. USA Football launched the Heads Up Football program in 2012. The focus was on player safety and proper tackling technique to avoid injuries, including concussions. The program also incorporated coaching and parenting tips for detecting a suspected concussion and steps for ensuring player safety.
Due to the violent nature of the sport, American Football gets the most attention when it comes to concussions, but concussions can happen in any contact sport. Popular fall youth sports such as soccer, field hockey, cheerleading and volleyball also report a fair amount of concussions. Soccer players can get concussions when hitting a header if the ball is traveling fast enough, or if two players' heads collide while trying to make a header on the same ball. Cheerleaders can sustain concussions from falls during routines like the pyramid. While cheerleading doesn't report concussions with the frequency of sports like football and soccer, the type of concussion can be very severe.
While these are common examples of how concussions can occur in these sports, concussions can happen on any play. The best way to protect a young athlete from concussions is prevention. Proper playing technique, such as heads up tackling, and protective gear, such as helmets, are some of the best ways to prevent concussions. Wearing proper footwear and making sure the playing surface is in good condition and free of debris or hazards will help prevent trips and falls that could result in concussion. Making sure your child can see properly and that their helmet or protective eyewear doesn't obstruct their vision will help prevent collisions and falls that could result in concussion as well.
In the event your child does sustain a concussion, it is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion so that they can be removed from play. Your child should never go back into a game if there is even a suspicion that they may have experienced a concussion. Some common concussion symptoms include the following:
- prolonged headache
- sensitivity to light
- ringing ears
- visual disturbances
- difficulty concentrating
- impaired balance
- nausea or vomiting
- memory loss
- loss of smell or taste
A concussion is characterized as an injury to the brain that results in a temporary loss of normal brain function. While the skull protects the brain against most injuries, a violent blow in sports or a car accident can cause the brain to impact the inside of the skull. When this happens there is potential for bruising of the brain, damage to nerve fibers, or tearing of blood vessels causing bleeding in the brain; all of which would be considered a concussion.
Typically, it takes about a week for brain chemicals to stabilize after a concussion. However, recovery times vary from person to person and potential complications can arise from a concussion. In the days, weeks, and months after a concussion, some people may experience headaches, vertigo, or post concussion syndrome. Post concussion syndrome consists of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and thinking difficulties.
Some of the more long term effects of concussions include CTE, which is caused from multiple concussions and brain injuries, and epilepsy. Individuals who sustain a concussion are twice as likely to develop epilepsy within the first five years after their injury. Perhaps the most serious complication of concussions is second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome is caused when an individual who has a concussion sustains a second concussion before the symptoms of the first concussion have resolved themselves. The result of the second concussion is rapid brain swelling that usually results in death.
The Child Neurology Group of Community Care Physicians specializes in treating and diagnosing concussions. They are located in our new Health Park in Clifton Park at 1783 Route 9 and share a space with Clifton Park Pediatrics in suite 101. They are open from 8:00am-4:30pm Monday through Friday. If you would like to learn more about the office or make an appointment for your child you can reach them at (518) 782-3810.
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