Concussions: Don’t let children return to sports too soonPosted: September 6, 2016
School is back in session and along with it the fall sports season. Youth sports promote physical activity and camaraderie, and the lessons of team sports can last a lifetime.
But injuries are a reality with youth sports, and kids are especially vulnerable to head injuries and concussions. There has been a lot written about sports-related head injuries in the last few years, yet kids and parents alike often downplay symptoms of concussions and rush too quickly to get back to the field or court.
There has been a lot written about sports-related head injuries in the last few years, yet kids and parents alike often downplay symptoms of concussions and rush too quickly to get back to the field or court.
A new study points out the risk involved with returning to sports too soon after a head injury. Researchers from Arkansas followed 70 young athletes who came to a medical facility for treatment of a sports related concussion. The average age was 15½. Half of the young men and women were removed immediately from play, while the other half were allowed to continue playing. Neurocognitive testing as well as assessment of symptoms such as headache were done a week later then again a few weeks after the first assesment.
The group that was allowed to continuing playing despite concussion symptoms took twice as long to recover compared to the group that was removed from play immediately (44 days versus 22 days). Kids who were allowed to continue playing were also more likely to have a long recovery from concussion symptoms (more than three weeks) including headache, dizziness, impaired cognition, academic, and psychosocial problems. The authors concluded that kids recover from concussions significantly faster if they are removed from participation immediately after their injury compared to those who were allowed to continue playing.
The findings from this study are not surprising. More than 3 million sports or recreation-related concussions occur in the U.S. annually. Adolescents are at the greatest risk for sports-related concussions and recover much more slowly than adults for unknown reasons, but possibly because their brains are still growing and developing.
Research has shown that the injured brain loses its ability to protect itself from a second injury, making the risk of a short-term second impact potentially catastrophic, and the risk is amplified is children and adolescents.
The danger period after a first concussion is unknown but it is likely at least 10 days. But even weeks later, kids can have subtle effects of a concussion, including emotional and mental symptoms including irritability and frustration. The psychological effects of a concussion may even start weeks after the physical effects have resolved.
In 2013, The American Academy of Neurology released guidelines on the evaluation and management of sports concussions. The first recommendation of the guideline is that an athlete suspected of having a concussion should immediately be removed from play and should not be allowed to return to play until evaluated by a trained health-care professional with training in both the diagnosis and management of concussions.
The guideline further recommends that high-school age or younger athletes should be treated much more “conservatively” than college or adult athletes, acknowledging that growing children and adolescents are at much higher risk of serious brain injury.
There is no evidence that any medications or other treatments hasten recovery over simple rest.
For boys, the risk of sports concussion is greatest with football and rugby, followed by hockey and soccer, while for girls the risk is highest with soccer and basketball.
Most sports injuries, such as a sprained ankle or broken wrist, are easily diagnosed and treated. But concussions may represent a far greater and longer-term risk. As a parent or coach, always put the player’s well being first and treat any head injury as a potentially serious injury.