Concussion Care Should Top Every Youth Sports Playbook

Brain Injury Awareness Month, held in March each year, was developed by the Brain Injury Association of America to let people know that brain injuries are serious - and more common than you think.

Being struck by another person or object is a leading cause of unintentional injury for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24, according to Injury Facts, and sports-related concussions are a significant contributor.

Don't think it's just football players – or boys – who bang their heads. Girls actually suffer a higher percentage of concussions, according to a report by Safe Kids Worldwide that analyzed sports-related emergency room injury data for children ages 6 to 19 in basketball, cheerleading, football, soccer and 11 other sports.

An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million athletes annually suffer concussion, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute. Often, cases are underreported and undiagnosed. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows the number of sports-related concussions is highest in high school athletes, but they are significant and on the rise in younger athletes.

Most concussions occur during games, not practices. Few result in loss of consciousness. Protect The Brain breaks down sports concussion facts for all age groups:

● 10% of all contact-sport athletes sustain concussions yearly

● Football injuries associated with the brain occur at a rate of one in every 5.5 games

● 5% of soccer players sustain brain injuries

● The head is involved in more baseball injuries than any other body part; almost half of injuries involve a child's head, face, mouth or eyes

● An athlete who sustains concussion is 4-6 times more likely to sustain a second concussion

Life Lessons and Warning Signs

If your child gets hit on the head, do not assume he just had his bell rung or she was just dinged. Concussions are serious and always require medical attention. Signs of concussion include:

● Confusion

● Forgetfulness

● Glassy eyes

● Disorientation

● Clumsiness or poor balance

● Slowed speech

● Changes in mood, behavior or personality

Research indicates most children and teens who have a concussion feel better within a couple of weeks. However, for some, symptoms may last for months or longer and can lead to short- and long-term problems affecting how they think, act, learn and feel.

Following a concussion, athletes of all ages are advised to undergo a series of steps before returning to play: rest, then light exercise and sport-specific training. Only then should they be cleared to resume contact drills.

Make sure all coaches know how to recognize the signs of a concussion and have a plan in case of emergency. Safe Kids offers this resource to teach coaches what they need to know.

Sometimes the Cost of Winning is Too High

The discussion about sports-related concussion and its long-term impact is being advanced by healthcare professionals, the media and even Hollywood.

In the motion picture Concussion, which is based on a true story, actor Will Smith portrays a neuropathologist who identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a retired National Football League star.

In her blog, Debra Houry, an emergency department physician and director of the Injury Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote about broadening the conversation and suggested ways to prevent sports-related head injuries, including changing the win-at-all-cost mentality. She said young athletes deserve a chance to play sports in a culture that celebrates hard work, dedication and teamwork – in a safe environment.

The CDC's HEADS UP campaign is aimed at putting educational materials into the hands of coaches, parents, athletes, and school and health care professionals nationwide. The HEADS UP website offers survivor advocate stories, such as "Coach Saves Wrestler's Life by Knowing Concussion Signs and Symptoms."

From sports, children learn values they carry throughout their lives, including discipline, teamwork and how to handle winning and losing. A few bumps and bruises are to be expected, but head injuries should never be ignored.

Play the Safety Game at Practice, Too

While most concussions happen during a game, most injuries take place at practice (62%), according to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance. One possible explanation: Parents and coaches don't always take the same precautions for practice as they do for games.

The most common injuries involve sprains and strains, repetitive motion injuries such as stress fractures (girls are eight times more likely to suffer knee injuries than boys), and heat-related illnesses.

Many injuries can be prevented by making a few changes. Stretching before and after practices and games, for example, can release tension and prevent muscle tears and sprains.

The CDC suggests more steps to keep kids safer on the playing fields:

● Require the use of protective gear, including helmets, wrist guards and knee or elbow pads

● Make sure sports protective equipment is in good condition and worn correctly

● Teach children skills such as proper tackling techniques in football and soccer

● Allow kids time to gradually adjust to hot or humid weather and schedule water breaks

● Model good behavior by following rules and communicating positive safety messages

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