By Dr. Zenos A. Vangelos
School is back in session, which means it’s time for fall sports. From cardio to strength training, playing sports offers numerous health benefits. However, it’s not without its risks.
Sports-related injuries typically pick up this time of year.
Ankles, knees, wrists – orthopedic injuries are common, as are concussions. Between football and soccer, high impact sports can cause higher rates of concussions. Given the risks associated with concussions and their impact on brain health, it’s important to learn what causes them, how your child can best avoid them and when to seek medical attention.
Concussions occur when athletes experience a bump, violent jolt or blow to the head that disrupts normal brain function.
A concussion can also be caused by a hit to your body that causes your head to forcefully jerk backwards, forwards or to the side. While usually they are not life threatening, the effects of the concussion can be serious and last for days, weeks or longer.
Common symptoms of a concussion include a headache, confusion, balance issues and memory issues, sensitivity to light or sound, feeling tired, changes in sleep pattern, trouble concentrating and sometimes feeling irritable, anxious or even depressed. While some may lose consciousness after a major hit, some athletes may not experience symptoms for several hours. Symptoms can change days later, and others can develop when your brain becomes stressed from overuse.
The occurrence of concussions can be mitigated by teaching athletes’ proper techniques and ways to avoid hits to the head.
In addition, limiting the amount of contact during practices, ensuring athletes avoid unsafe actions and enforcing the rules of the sport for fair play, safety, and sportsmanship can be help reduce concussions. For sports where helmets are necessary, it’s equally important to make sure athletes are wearing a helmet that fits well. There should also always be an athletic trainer present at games and practices to care for injured athletes.
If you think your child or teen is experiencing concussion symptoms or took a hard hit to the head, you should have them evaluated by a medical professional. A health care provider will be able to evaluate symptoms, perform a neurological exam and diagnose a concussion. Your provider will check your child’s neurological function and reflexes, vision and reaction to light, balance, coordination, and strength.
After a concussion, an athlete should only return to their sport under the supervision and with the approval of their health care provider. The player and parents should also work closely with the team’s certified athletic trainer to make sure they can tolerate increasing performance over time without triggering symptoms.
Concussions can be scary for you and your athlete. But, with mental and physical rest, the negative effects of concussions will resolve in most athletes. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s orders so that your athlete can safely get back out on the field healthy.
Find this column and others from the September 2023 issue here!