Protecting your child’s noggin this sports season
Most parents unclear on concussion guidelines
05 / 22 / 2008
Maria Nelson, Media Relations
Affinity Health System
(920) 554-0686 (pager)
APPLETON, Wis.- Children playing, whistles sounding and bodies colliding are all signs of a new sports season. As area athletes prepare to hit the field, parents, coaches and local medical providers prepare for potential injuries.
Dr. Christoffer Birn, a pediatrician with the Children’s Health Center at
“Athletes sometimes feel they have to play through the pain,” says Birn. “Not only is this bad advice, but injuries sustained during practice or a game can have permanent repercussions well after the child is done playing sports. Knowing the coaches philosophy on injuries is important for both the parents and the athlete.”
Birn is especially concerned about sports-related concussions because athletes often return to the field too soon after the injury and don’t understand the severity of a concussion.
“A concussion is a brain injury and like any other injury, it takes time to heal,” he says. “We wouldn’t allow our children to play with a swollen joint or a broken bone, and playing with a brain injury should be handled the same way if not more cautiously. I want parents and coaches to understand how severe it really is.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year. A concussion can happen in any sport and to both genders.
Most athletes who sustain a concussion recover uneventfully, but some have more serious outcomes. The American Association of Neurologists reports that some concussions can even cause permanent brain injury. An athlete is four times more likely to suffer a second concussion following the first. Sustaining a repeat concussion before the brain is fully healed and recovered can lead to serious consequences, such as a slower recovery and an increased likelihood of long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death.
“This is why it is important to keep athletes with known or suspected concussions from further participation in sports until they have been evaluated and given permission to return to play by a healthcare professional with experience in evaluating concussions,” says Birn.
Birn and the staff at the Children’s Health Center have developed a Concussion Clinic to help coaches, parents and other physicians determine if a child is ready to return to the game.
“After an athlete is completely symptom free, we can conduct neuropsych testing to determine if the brain injury has completely healed,” says Birn. “Athletes may say anything to get back to the field, but the test can help tell us if they are truly ready.”
The computer-based test measures the athlete’s attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time. If the athlete passes the test, he or she is then put on a progressive-return-to-play schedule. The schedule gradually introduces the athlete back into the sport through light aerobic activity, non-contact drills and sport specific exercises.
“We really need athletes to get back into their sport slowly,” says Birn. “Sometimes an athlete may be symptom free at rest, but then the symptoms of a concussion reappear as the athlete resumes physical activity, indicating that the brain is not fully healed and needs more time to rest. Returning to activities too soon can aggravate the injury, prolonging healing time and possibly cause long lasting if not devastating effects.”
What can a parent do to protect their athlete?
“Know the symptoms,” says Birn. “A child doesn’t need to be knocked out to have a concussion.”
The most common symptoms of a concussion include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of memory before or after the injury
- Feeling mentally slow, groggy or foggy
- Trouble concentrating
- Unsteadiness or motor clumsiness
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurry vision.
Athletes that show any of these symptoms should not be allowed to return to play, and should be evaluated further, according to the current recommendations by the CDC. When in doubt, keep the athlete out of play.
Birn also advises that everyone involved, including coaches and teammates, to be patient during the recovery process. He concludes, “I understand that sports can be very important, but nothing is more important than having a healthy child and teammate.”
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For the Editor:
Affinity Health System, a faith-based regional health care network, is the Fox Valley’s second-largest employer, according to the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce & Industry. For the fourth consecutive year, Affinity has been named one of the nation’s top 64 health systems based on clinical performance according to Thomson Reuters, a leading provider of information and solutions to improve the cost and quality of health care. For ten consecutive years, Affinity Health System has been named to the SDI (formerly Verispan) Integrated Health Network Top 100, an annual assessment of the 100 most highly integrated health care networks in the nation. Both St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton and Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh rank among the top 1 percent of hospitals nationwide in terms of quality and efficiency, as determined by the 2007 Premier | CareScience Select practice National Quality Award. Members of Affinity include Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Health Foundation, Oshkosh; St. Elizabeth Hospital and the St. Elizabeth Hospital Foundation, Appleton; Affinity Medical Group, a regional network of 25 family practice and specialty clinics – 22 of which are recognized as NCQA Level III medical homes, the highest level of recognition – in 14 communities; Calumet Medical Center, Chilton; and Affinity Occupational Health.