There has been a lot of interest recently in the dangers of brain injuries–particularly among professional football players–and you may be wondering if your child is also at risk while playing football or other sports. While there is some recent research showing that, in fact, children are susceptible to concussion at even lower levels of impact than adults are, there are plenty of reasons you do not need to panic if your child loves playing sports.
What is a concussion?
The word “concussion” may sound scary, especially if you have never experienced dealing with one before. A concussion is a mild brain injury in which some sort of sudden, strong movement (such as a hard bump or blow to the head) causes the brain to move around in the skull and sustain bruising or other damage. Signs of a concussion include loss of consciousness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and confusion or memory problems. Usually the symptoms show up shortly after the injury, but occasionally symptoms may show up over the course of several hours or even a few days. If your child does seem to have sustained a concussion, he or she should be brought to the emergency room right away.
What to do
However, there is a lot of good news. If your child does happen to sustain a concussion, you may be relieved to hear that as long as the patient rests adequately following the occurrence, the brain will begin to heal. It’s important to emphasize that if there is any chance whatsoever that your child sustained a concussion, he or she needs to be removed from the game immediately. It is the coach’s responsibility to remove your child, but in the event that the coach does not realize the seriousness of the situation, make sure your child knows to speak up and let the coach know they are injured.
Recuperating from a concussion involves lots of physical rest, including plenty of sleep, and avoiding any strenuous activity–especially any that may pose a risk of a second concussion. Most of the time, recovery should take only a couple of weeks, although in some cases it may take up to a few months. When the child no longer experiences any of the concussion symptoms whatsoever, that is a good sign he or she is recovered. Under the guidance of a medical professional, the child should eventually be able to return to playing his or her favorite sport as well.
And while children and adolescents (whose brains are still developing) may be more prone to concussions than adults, researchers who studied this also noted that because youth players are physically smaller and slower than adult players, their rate of concussion is still lower than that of adult players. In another study, researchers observed that–unlike the professional football players who have been recently in the spotlight–adolescents who played football and other contact sports were no more likely to suffer from cognitive or emotional effects of brain damage than adolescents who did not play contact sports.
In addition to these reassuring findings, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a child sustaining a concussion in the first place. Your child’s sports coach can implement slight modifications in the game (for instance, children under age 10 are discouraged from heading the ball in soccer) and teach the players some techniques that can reduce the risk of collisions and injuries. The coach should ensure that all players are following the rules at all times. The coach should also make sure that all players are wearing properly fitting helmets in good condition, in any sport where that applies. The issue of concussions is something you may want to discuss with your child’s coach directly, since he or she is most likely to be directly involved if something happens.
It is hard to realize there are so many things about raising children that parents have little control over, but many things that seem scary don’t need to be a cause of worry. Playing youth sports is one such situation. While the specter of brain injury among professional football players may be worrying, there are plenty of reasons you can relax about your child playing his or her favorite sport.