We have heard much about the topic of concussion lately with the settlement of the NFL concussion lawsuit, where retired professional football players sued the NFL for hiding the long-term dangers of concussions sustained while playing. But it is important to remember that the larger pool of individuals potentially affected by concussions is our youth.
An estimated 650,000 mild traumatic brain injuries occur among children and adolescents each year in the U.S. More locally, visits to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for concussion have increased by 400 percent since 2009 and only about half are sports-related. Our sports-medicine colleagues at CHOP note that adolescents and teenagers seem to have longer recovery times than collegiate-aged, young adults who sustain these injuries. Since the primary ‘job’ of children is school not sport, their recovery is not always straight-forward and must include a “return to learn” plan, as well as return to play.
The key to a fast recovery from concussion is prompt identification of the injury through recognition of symptoms. Some of the symptoms of a concussion can appear immediately after the injury, while others may not show up for several days. Symptoms may last days, weeks or months. Sometimes symptoms may be subtle and not obvious.
We all share responsibility for this – the child, the parent, coaches, teachers and other school personnel. While the culture of professional sports may still wrestle with acceptance of concussions as ‘real’, we who care for children need to promote a culture where acknowledging your symptoms and sitting out a game, even if it’s the ‘big’ game, is the norm. We need to be advocates for children who may need special accommodations at school like extra time for tests or just a quiet space to lie down after the hustle-bustle of the cafeteria. As parents, we need to make it our business to understand the training practices of our children’s coaches and praise those who teach fundamental skills like agility, eye-hand coordination and conditioning, while questioning those who encourage excessive contact or don’t remove from play those suspected of sustaining a concussion.
Help change the culture and increase awareness about the importance of recognizing concussions and supporting our children during recovery. Our team of Concussion experts has created a series of infographics that can be shared with youth and families. The series is called “Minds Matter: The Truth on Concussions.” The download-ready infographics and posters break concussion down into relatable terms and engaging graphics for youth and parents. Consider sharing the infographics in e-newsletters, Websites, Facebook pages, or Twitter and print the posters to hang in your locations or to hand-out.
News stories in professional sports will continue to inform us who passed their ‘concussion test’ and debate whether the star running back is being kept out too long after his concussion. For our kids, however, the overwhelming majority of who will never see a collegiate, let alone a professional, playing field, we need to do all we can to ensure that those with concussions return to school, hanging out with their friends, and enjoying their lives both on and off the athletic field.