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Concussions in Focus

Youth head injuries are on the rise, even in non-contact sports. What are the consequences?


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All three of my children play a variety of sports. Fortunately, aside from minor bumps, bruises, and one sprained wrist, they have never gotten hurt. But many of their teammates have, the most common injury being concussions. Just last month, two girls on my daughter’s high school basketball game had to spend the last week of the season on the bench due to concussions.

Increasing risk

Concussions seem to be more prevalent than ever. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits for sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, have increased by 60% among children and adolescents (from birth to 19 years old) over the past decade.

Dr. Joseph Rempson, codirector of the Concussion Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, says, “The number of concussions being reported and treated has definitely increased. Years ago, many children probably sustained concussions but no one realized. Now adults involved in youth sports are better equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion and encourage young athletes to seek medical attention.”

An increase in the number of young athletes participating in sports and playing in contact sports year-round (as opposed to seasonally) has also led to the rise in concussions. Youth sports have become more competitive—kids are bigger, stronger, and faster—resulting in more injuries.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that can alter the way your brain functions. While many assume that a concussion is always the result of a blow to the head, a concussion can occur if a person is hit in the face, neck, or elsewhere in the body if that blow is transmitted to the head. A relatively minor impact may result in a concussion, while a high-magnitude hit to the head may not. Experts say there is simply no way to know for certain whether a particular blow will ultimately lead to sustaining a concussion.

Dr. Robert Cantu, chief of neurosurgery at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts and author of the book, Concussions and our Kids (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), says, “Children and teens are more vulnerable to concussions than adults because their nerve cells and connections don’t have the coating and insulation of adult brains. In addition, they have disproportionately weak necks and large heads compared to adults. This sets them up for brain injuries that are more serious than those sustained at a later age from the same amount of force.” Because girls generally have weaker necks, they appear to be more susceptible to concussions and post-concussion symptoms than boys and are often slower to recover.

Parents may think that only athletes that compete in aggressive contact sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse suffer concussions, but this is not true. Concussions occur in many sports, including basketball, soccer, and cheerleading—even synchronized swimming.

Symptoms, recovery, and playing it safe. —>

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