Most young boys and even some young girls’ dream of the day they can put on the pads and football helmet and run onto their beloved school field to compete. My son was no exception. However, when that day arrives, some parents feel slightly different. We worry our child may get hurt and with good reason. While light has been shed on concussions in professional athletes where the hits are the hardest, researchers are now focusing their efforts on the next generation of football players and young athletics.
In the past three years alone, 47 kids have died in the U.S. while playing football. Seventeen of those deaths are directly related to head injuries sustained while during practice or in a game. According to the Centers for Disease Control, high school sports concussions have reached an epidemic level.
- High school football is consistently shown in studies to be the sport with the greatest proportion of concussions (47.1%) and the highest concussion rate (6.4 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures).
- At least one player sustains a mild concussion in nearly every American football game.
- There are approximately 67,000 diagnosed concussions in high school football every year.
- Football players suffer the most brain injuries of any sport.
- An unacceptably high percentage (39%) of high school and collegiate football players suffering catastrophic head injuries (death, nonfatal but causing permanent neurologic functional disability, and serious injury but leaving no permanent functional disability) during the period 1989 to 2002 were still playing with neurologic symptoms at the time of the catastrophic event.
What are the warning signs of a concussion? It’s key to remember that with a concussion, the young athlete does not have to lose consciousness. In fact, often there are no external signs of head trauma, and currently available diagnostic imaging tests – CT and MRI – will often show no abnormalities. For that reason, the athlete must be examined carefully for these possible indicators of a concussion:
- Memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or fuzzy vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Feeling sluggish, foggy or groggy
- Feeling unusually irritable or depressed
- Concentration or memory problems (forgetting game plays, facts, meeting times)
- Slow reaction time
- Nausea (feeling like you might vomit)
While I have honed in on football concussions, no sport is really immune to head injuries. The Andrews Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine located in Plano, TX is seeing a rise of head injuries in sports such as; cheerleading, soccer, baseball and softball, wrestling and boxing, LaCrosse and others.
I had the privilege meeting Dr. James Andrews a few years ago. Dr. Andrews is the orthopedic surgeon known for performing the most Tommy John Surgeries in the country. He was also the driving force in the opening of Children’s Health Andrews Institute. The institute specializes in sports-related injuries and prevention along with concussion care. Dr. Andrews is very clear on his stance concerning young athletes and the education of the parents who push them. “Many parents think their child is going to be the next sports superstar and they push and push until the child eventually ends up in an operating room. I hate to see the kids that we used to not see get hurt. … Now they’re coming in with adult, mature-type sports injuries. It’s a real mess,” stated Andrews.
The key to avoiding a concussion or any sports injury is prevention. Proper equipment should be used, as should proper technique, such as football coaches’ instruction in tackling. This is especially important for the young athlete, who is especially vulnerable. Because of the seriousness of concussions, a student-athlete showing any signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion – both at rest and during exertion – should be removed immediately from practice or competition. They then are not to return to participation until cleared by an appropriate health care professional, and not on that same day, which is not the case according to Andrews. “Many young athletes are pushed either by their parents or coaches to go right back onto the field before they are completely healed.”
Remember there is no such thing as a minor concussion. The effects can be severe, and individuals who suffer a head injury might suffer effects for weeks or months. This is known as the “post-concussion syndrome.” Enduring a second concussion before recovery from the previous injury is known as second-impact syndrome. Acute, possibly fatal, brain swelling can occur. That second concussion, which need not be severe, can be deadly or permanently disabling.
For more information and a great read try Dr. Andrew’s book entitled, “On Any Given Monday”. The book is a guide on how young athletes can maximize their talents, but also maintain a lifetime of health both on and off the field.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Prevacus Statistics, Children’s Medical Center Plano, Dr. James Andrews, Wikipedia, Statistics are at a national level