Kids’ sports are back on and with warmer weather come more opportunities for organized play. You know you can’t keep your child in a bubble, but one of the scariest sports injuries to consider is any harm to the head. By learning the risks, you can teach your young athlete how to prevent a concussion.
A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by a bump, blow or jolt that makes the head move quickly back and forth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“While not necessarily life-threatening, a concussion is serious because it involves the brain and, if not recognized, could lead to other more catastrophic injuries if an athlete gets hurt again,” said Robert R. Sefcik, ATC, executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program (JSMP), a volunteer-based nonprofit dedicated to youth sports injury awareness, prevention and advocacy. Wolfson Children’s Hospital has been a founding and sustaining partner of JSMP for nearly 40 years.
Any impact to the head or jarring injury to the body that might also involve the skull could potentially cause a concussion.
The brain floats in fluid and moves around inside the skull whenever you shake your head. The fluid forms a liquid cushion that protects your brain from blows, but if hit hard enough, the soft, delicate brain tissue can get damaged. Activities classified as “collision sports” – think football, basketball, lacrosse and soccer – tend to carry more risk, but concussions can happen during any activity.
You don’t need direct contact to the head or to be knocked unconscious to have a concussion. Forceful body contact with the ground or another player will do. Signs of a concussion can be confusing and, to further complicate matters, sometimes young athletes do not feel any symptoms of a concussion until 24 hours later.
“In Duval County Public Schools, we’ve already treated 94 concussions in high school athletes this school year [2020-21]. It’s alarming, and there’s a large percentage of concussions that are underrecognized or underreported,” said Sefcik. Awareness is key to avoiding further injury.
If your child is participating in sports, make sure he or she:
- Knows how concussions happen and when to tell an adult if he or she has been injured
- Plays on a team with safety protocols in place
- Follows the rules for safety and understands why those rules exist
- Always practices good sportsmanship and watches out for other players and teammates
- Incorporates neck-strengthening exercises into his or her routine
- Wears a properly fitting helmet if appropriate for the sport, but remembers no helmet is concussion-proof
- Avoids hits to the head and uses proper techniques when the head is involved in play (such as headers in soccer)
- Wears appropriate safety equipment for all practices and games
Know the signs
Parents need to review with their kids the importance of reporting signs of concussion. Symptoms may include:
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Angry, moody or irrational behavior
“Sometimes the only sign they have is they don’t feel ‘right,’ or they feel like they’re in a fog,” said Sefcik.
Addressing concussion at home
“When someone has a concussion, one of the first things we recommend is for the individual to ‘quiet down’ the eyes," Sefcik explained. "The eyes and brain work together. Kids are on their phones all the time and their eyes are continuously moving and working, and that is stimulating the brain.”
If your child has a concussion and is scrolling through social media while resting on the couch, but doesn’t seem to be getting any better, make sure to limit screen time.
“We don’t want their eyes to work too hard because then the brain will work instead of rest,” Sefcik said.
Some symptoms may not show up for hours or days after the injury. The CDC recommends taking your child to the nearest children’s emergency department for any of the following:
- One enlarged pupil
- Drowsiness or inability to wake up
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away
- Slurred speech, weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea, shaking or twitching
- Unusual behavior, increased confusion, restlessness or agitation
- Loss of consciousness
While concussions are serious, most kids and teens bounce back from them just fine
“A concussion is a common injury in sports today,” Sefcik said. “Typically, a player will recover from a first-time concussion in approximately seven to 10 days, if he or she is removed from play and follows a proper recovery plan.”
When is it safe to get back on the field? After receiving medical clearance from the treating physician and all signs or symptoms are gone. Kids need to be reintroduced to their activities gradually.
“All it takes is injuring your brain one time and you can have long-term consequences,” Sefcik said. “Protect your brain and make sure to get appropriate medical advice.”