Getting Ahead of Concussions
How to protect your young athlete's brain
If your child plays football, it’s hard not to worry about concussions. It seems there’s a new report every week about a kid getting hurt on the gridiron, or a lawsuit by a former pro who suffered a brain injury on the field.
But while football has become concussion “ground zero,” other sports also carry a high concussion risk. Chief among them are ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, wrestling and cheerleading. In a recent survey of 2,000 youth athletes in first through 10th grade, one in eight kids — 12 percent — said they had experienced a head injury or a concussion.
Despite the headlines, many parents don’t know all they should about concussions according to two recent studies. That means they may not act fast enough or do the right thing if their middle- or high-school athlete gets hurt.
Here are seven tips to keep in mind to protect your little linebacker, goalie or cheerleader from head harm.
Know what a concussion looks like. Every concussion is different, but most bring on at least a few of these symptoms:
- brief loss of consciousness
- inability to remember what happened before or after the injury
- blurred vision
- trouble thinking or reading
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light or sound
Call a timeout. A child may experience symptoms of a concussion as soon as she gets hurt. If she does, she should come out of the game immediately and be taken to a doctor or the emergency room.
Sometimes, though, symptoms may not show up for as many as 24 to 48 hours after an injury. That’s why it’s vital to keep an eye on a kid who gets hit in the head or bumps it (in a fall, for example) for a few days afterward, says Harry Kerasidis, MD, director of the Center for Neuroscience at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, Maryland.
Team up with the coach. He should be trained in concussion recognition, CPR, automated external defibrillator (AED) use, first aid and injury prevention. However, in a recent survey by SafeKids.org, fewer than half the coaches surveyed said they had training in preventing and recognizing injuries.
Coaches of community and recreational teams were less likely to have received training than coaches of school, intramural and club teams. Coaches for reputable sports leagues, such as Little League, Pop Warner Football, and USA Lacrosse are required to have this training.
If your kid’s coach isn’t up to speed on concussions and other injuries, it’s up to you to be on the sidelines and be vigilant, advises Kerasidis. He adds, “It takes a village to protect and manage concussions. Ideally, everyone involved in the game, including league officials, referees and umpires, should have an understanding of concussions.”
Get your kid in (the right) gear. His equipment should fit properly and be in good condition, and he should know how to put it on correctly. Worth noting: While many helmet and mouth guard manufacturers claim that their products reduce the risk of concussion, none have been scientifically proven to do so, so don’t be seduced into paying more for so-called extra protection. “There’s no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet,” says Kerasidis. “A helmet will protect the skull from cuts and scratches, but it can’t prevent the brain from moving around inside the skull.”
Make sure your child plays it safe. Young athletes should learn techniques to help protect their own noggins. In football, that means “heads up” tackling, a technique that reduces helmet contact, says Kerasidis. On the soccer field, kids should learn the correct way to head the ball. On the ice, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against “checking” (using the body to hit an opponent) before age 15.
Remind your child she doesn’t have to be a hero. One reason youth sports injuries are so common is because kids often are embarrassed to admit they’re hurt, or they downplay an injury to stay in the game, says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Teach your child that it’s not cool to play while injured, even if it’s an important game. Explain that if she does, she may end up on the sidelines even longer.
Honor the healing process. If your child gets a concussion, it can take two to three weeks for him to recover. In the meantime, keep him home from school, practice and other activities. Don’t push him to keep up with his classwork. Reading, studying and looking at a computer screen can worsen his symptoms, as can watching TV and playing video games. The pediatrician should give the green light before your kid goes back to his normal activities.