By Dr. David Marshall
I’ve heard many different phrases over the years.
“Tough it out!”
“Rub some dirt on it!”
“Shake it off!”
It’s usually the easiest response to a hard hit in sports, especially when you don’t see a physical injury to the player.
The truth is, though, head injuries – like concussions – are serious and should not be ignored. Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury that affect how the brain works and processes information. Doctors are treating more of them this time of year due to football season, but athletes in any sport are susceptible to these types of head injuries.
Parents and coaches alike are well equipped to recognize the signs of a possible concussion. Just because your child didn’t lose consciousness doesn’t mean he or she isn’t injured. If you notice your child is experiencing memory loss, vision problems, slurred speech, confusion or sensitivity to noise and light, it’s a good time to see a physician.
Rest and recovery time is best for a child that sustained a concussion. As a parent, I know it’s difficult to keep your child sidelined while also asking them to stay away from computers, cellphones and television. But rest for the body and mind is the only way to overcome a concussion. Returning to school and athletic activities should be gradual as the symptoms of a concussion fade.
The Return to Play Act of 2013 is a Georgia law that is designed to keep our children from returning to action too soon. If a youth athlete exhibits symptoms of a concussion, they must be removed from play. Before the athlete can return to practice or games, he or she must be cleared by a healthcare provider who is trained in the management of concussions.
Your child’s school or recreational league should provide you with information about concussions before the start of each season. If a child sustains a second concussion before he recovers from the first, there could be serious consequences.
Baseline testing is also important to consider for young athletes, especially those participating in contact sports. Computerized neurocognitive testing can be used to help determine if an athlete is ready to return to play. Taking the test before the start of the season gives your child a baseline score that can be compared to post-concussion test results if a head injury occurs.
At the end of the day, the best action to take if you are worried about concussions is to talk to your child’s doctor. I know our children will do anything to play their favorite sport, but it’s our job to protect them and make sure we keep them healthy and active for years to come.
David Marshall, M.D., is the medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Dr. Marshall is part of the multidisciplinary concussion team at Children’s, and has published several articles about pediatric concussions. He is board certified in general pediatrics and sports medicine.