As another year of school starts up, so does another season of fall athletics. As kids become more active in sports, the risk of concussions increases. Make sure your child plays it safe by better understanding these head injuries, recognizing the symptoms and knowing what to do if one is diagnosed.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. A common misconception is that it involves swelling, bleeding or bruising of the brain, but it’s actually that the brain just doesn’t function normally after it experiences trauma. While sports receive much attention, a concussion can be caused by any sort of trauma to the head or near the head that causes the brain to move in the skull — such as a bike accident or fall on the playground.
A Tricky Diagnosis
Concussions in children typically present the same as in adults, though there may be a difference in severity of the symptoms or in how kids describe them. Because it’s not an injury you can see on the outside, it can be challenging to identify a concussion. Some testing can assess balance or memory, but diagnosis often relies on a physician’s assessment of the patient’s symptoms following head trauma. These might include headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, difficulty focusing or concentrating, difficulty sleeping, mood issues or overall just not feeling like their normal self.
Taking Time to Heal
While many concussions will get better with time, proper care is important to prevent further injury to the brain. It’s recommended to reduce both mental and physical activity following a concussion. For kids in school, that might mean reducing their workload to lessen stress and strain on the brain. Likewise, physical activity should be reduced, but brisk walking or light work on an exercise bike may be encouraged. Contrary to past recommendations, studies have shown that reducing instead of completely eliminating activity has helped speed up recovery.
Preventing concussions can be difficult, but by enforcing the rules and not playing aggressively — in addition to an increased awareness and understanding of head injuries — we can help keep kids from getting hurt.
Mark Halstead, MD, is medical director of the orthopedic clinic at Progress West Hospital. He also directs the Washington University Sports Concussion Program and is medical director of the Young Athlete Center at the St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Halstead and learn more about Washington University Orthopedics here.