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Concussion Recovery Is Important for Kids

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
Youth baseball players in dugout

It is better to miss a game than a whole season. That is the key message of a campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at an underrated health threat: sports-related concussions.

Concussions are a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a blow or jolt to the head. While concussions range from mild to severe, they are all serious injuries that can harm the way the brain works. More than 300,000 TBIs occur in U.S. sports and recreation each year, the CDC says. Most athletes never lose consciousness.

After the Injury

“Concussions can happen to any child in any sport,” says Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD, Director of Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s.

The short-term effects of a concussion, such as memory problems, can cause trouble in activities of daily living for many children and teenagers.

“When young athletes have difficulty concentrating and remembering in school, relating to others, or sleeping well, it can have long-term, devastating consequences,” says Dr. Weiss Kelly.

One grave danger occurs when athletes go back to the game before they fully recover from a concussion. In such a case, even a mild blow can cause second impact syndrome, which can lead to brain swelling, brain damage and even death.

Coaches and referees should be on the look-out for athletes who may have suffered a concussion and pull them from practice or games for evaluation. Athletes also must let everyone know if they hurt their heads.

“You’re not helping yourself or your team by hiding it,” says Dr. Weiss Kelly.

Concussions Signs and Symptoms

Visible signs of concussion include:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Seems confused about an assignment
  • Forgets plays
  • Is unsure of game, score or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness
  • Shows behavior or personality changes
  • Cannot recall events prior to hit
  • Cannot recall events after hit

Symptoms cited by athletes include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Feeling foggy or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Increased emotionality
  • Trouble sleeping, needing more sleep than usual
  • Feeling slow or “out of it”

Dr. Weiss Kelly says that parents should make sure that children wear the right safety gear during all practices and games. If you think your athlete has a concussion, the CDC says to:

  1. Seek medical help at once.
  2. Bench your child until a healthcare professional who knows the return-to-play guidelines says it is OK to play.
  3. Tell all your child’s coaches about any recent concussions.

Concussion Team Helps Evaluate Return to Play

The UH Neurological Institute and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital have created a new Sports Concussion Team that brings together specialists from pediatric sports medicine, orthopedic surgery and neuropsychiatry. The team evaluates, manages and treats sports concussions, while preventing further damage from concussive injuries. The team also provides preseason baseline neurocognitive assessments.

Once an athlete has recovered from a concussion, a Return to Play Protocol is used to ensure that they have completely recovered before returning to competitive contact activity. The athlete gradually increases their level of exertion to make sure that concussion symptom don’t return with high level activity, which would be a sign that they have not actually recovered completely.

The Return to Play Progression protocol is used at all levels of athletic play, from Pee Wee to Pro. This protocol may be modified to be more prolonged in more complicated and/or severe concussions.