If you are a parent of a student athlete, this back-to-school reminder is for you.
As school athletic teams gear up for fall and winter, it’s time to think about concussions: how to prevent them and what to do when they happen. Every parent, coach, and school official should make this part of their back-to-school routine.
When sports-related concussion is mentioned, most people immediately think of boys’ football or ice hockey. But while these sports produce the highest rate of concussion, girls are also at risk.
As reported last year by The Atlantic, Olivia Hayward, a 90-pound high school varsity soccer player, got knocked to the ground. At first, she worried about her injured wrist. But a few days later, she had no appetite, was bothered by light, and had a throbbing headache. She failed the simple test for concussion that her coach had her take. Her doctor finally determined that she had suffered whiplash and a concussion, her second. She missed 3 weeks of school, and her parents had to read her assignments to her. And she was among the lucky ones.
When student athletes display or report symptoms associated with concussion, most coaches remove them from play until a medical professional has conducted an examination. The general rule is, “When in doubt, sit them out.” Follow-up for a few days or weeks by a licensed health care provider is often recommended. Nearly all states require these measures by law.
Most children and teens will be able to return gradually to school and sports activities. Sometimes after severe or repeated concussion, support services are needed. Because a concussion is a bruising of the brain, it can affect learning and mood. Teachers might need to tailor assignments and exams to accommodate concussed students. School officials, teachers, educational specialists, school nurses, coaches, and parents should work together as a team to make sure that a student’s returning to school and/or sports activities occurs smoothly and is monitored.
Bottom line: Whenever you suspect a student athlete has suffered a concussion, have a licensed health care provider (physician or physician assistant) evaluate the situation.
Important resource: The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) provides much useful information, including several videos, for parents, athletes, coaches, teachers, school officials, health providers, and others about sports-related concussion. Become informed and get involved!
Reducing Risk of Concussion
Risk of concussion varies by sport and, to some extent, by sex (girls might be at greater risk than boys in sports played by both). The following measures can reduce risk.
- Athletes must wear protective equipment that is in good condition and appropriate for each activity. Be sure that it fits. (Remember: a person can still have a concussion even if wearing a helmet.)
- Make sure that coaches limit hard physical contact especially during practice.
- Check with school officials that their policies and procedures regarding concussion—both prevention and concussive events—reflect best practice and not just state law.
- Ensure that your son or daughter understands the importance of following safety rules, and tell them to let you know if they have suffered any blow to the head during their sports activity.
- Join others in making sure that state law, education regulations, and athletic rules incorporate the recommendations of experts in traumatic brain injury and its prevention.
A Final Word
Concussion is one form of traumatic brain injury that is widespread and serious. At Kathy’s Urgent Care, we evaluate one to two patients per week for concussion from all sources (falls, vehicle accidents, workplace injuries, sports activities, etc.).
For more information about symptoms and other aspects of traumatic brain injury, please see our previous blog post on this topic.