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Sports Concussions: What You Need to Know

Last month we talked about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussion, now called mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mild TBI) by medical professionals. There’s actually not much mild about it. It’s only mild compared to more serious head injuries. Children and teens are especially at risk. When any trauma happens to a developing brain, regardless of the classification, there may be serious short-term and/or long term effects. Awareness of prevention strategies is key to safe-guarding your brain, because it’s the only brain you get.

Limit or closely monitor participation in the riskiest sports.

You may be surprised at the sports with the highest incidences of head injuries. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) reports for children 14 years old and younger: Cycling is #1, followed closely by football, baseball, basketball, skateboards/ scooters, water sports (diving, swimming, water skiing) and soccer. Driving or racing off-road recreational vehicles, winter sports, ice hockey, cheerleading and trampolines are responsible for many head injuries as well. 

Use a helmet, but we aware of its limitations.

Buy the right size helmet and insist on its use for high risk activities. But don’t count on a helmet to prevent concussion. After all, think of all those football players with concussion who were all wearing helmets. However, they would likely be a lot worse off without the helmets. Biomechanical studies show that helmets reduce the severity of impact and prevent skull fractures and other head injuries like lacerations. Helmets protect your head, but they can’t fully protect your brain. Kids and teens should be reminded they’re not invincible just because they have a helmet on. Especially of concern are repeated assaults over time even while wearing a helmet. 

Educate yourself and your kids.

Talk with them about concussions. Let them know the signs that something could be wrong. Explain how damage occurs. For younger children, you can use one of your fists to represent the brain and the other hand to cover the fist representing the skull. You can show them that during concussion the brain knocks against the very hard brain. Any damage can effect their ability to learn, speak, write, or play x-box! 

All adults need to monitor and respond.

While prevention is key, it is also important for adults and kids who experience head trauma to report it and seek help right away. Unfortunately, in sports and the military where strength and a fighting spirit are celebrated many people won’t report their symptoms. Most players know that if they develop symptoms that are suspicious for concussions, they’re going to get pulled from the game. 

Therefore, it’s important for people to monitor each other. Coaches and teachers should be alert for concussion symptoms (including confusion, delayed reaction times, agitation, knowledge of surroundings, date and time, headache, dizziness, balance, inappropriate responses, etc) among their players/ students and parents should ask their children if they’ve been hit in the head during practice (and be alert for symptoms). Even mild head trauma should be reported and treated promptly to avoid worsening of symptoms and the risk of new blows to the head. An environment where people feel safe to report their symptoms and where coaches, trainers, and parents work to prevent trauma could go a long way in reducing the risk for long term problems from head trauma.

The Centers of Disease Control “Heads Up” campaign provides free educational materials on concussion for parents, coaches, students. CDC - Heads up to High School Sports.

Consider baseline testing.

New on the sports scene and being explored by the Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport (2012) is the idea of pre-season baseline neuropsych and electrophysiological testing (Quantitative Electroencephalogram, QEEG). While QEEG is not a diagnostic tool, it does provide insight into how areas of the brain are performing from an electrical perspective. Please contact our office if you are interested in learning more about how we do QEEGs, also called brain maps. We also offer scientifically validated training that can help mitigate the cognitive and emotional symptoms that may be associated with concussion/ mild TBI.

Note: This information is for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your medical professional if you have any health concerns.

About the Author

Cynde Margritz

Cynde Margritz

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