The Kansas City community was deeply saddened after the death of a vibrant young football player this past month.  His death has also heightened our community’s concern and awareness of concussion injury.

For the past few months, the topics of concussion, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and concussive syndrome have been increasing in the news.  New information about the significance of concussions and the subsequent problems of TBI is creating a shift in our attitude. A few years ago, “getting your bell rung” during football practice meant dusting off your pants and lining up for the next play.  Now, doctors have a better understanding of the history and long-term significance of concussions.  We know that young brains are still growing and developing, and young brains may be more susceptible to the effects of a concussion.

With new information about the seriousness of these injuries; coaches, players, and parents are beginning re-education.  Despite common belief, losing consciousness or “blacking out” is not part of the definition of concussion.  It is also important to note that although football is the sport we most commonly think of when it comes to concussions, TBI can occur in any sport.  We have had athletes from all sports including cheerleading, cycling, and wrestling suffer concussions during participation.  In fact, girls have a higher concussion rate than boys in similar sports.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion are within 4 categories; physical, cognitive, emotional, and sleep.  Review the symptoms here.  The symptoms of concussion are similar to depression, anxiety, and ADHD.  Kids that have one of these conditions and have a possible concussion may confuse their symptoms with increased depression, for example, instead of post-concussive syndrome.

Proper technique, current equipment, and adherence to rules of the sport decreases but does not prevent concussions.  Concussions cannot be “toughed out.” If you believe your athlete has a possible concussion, they need to be evaluated by a physician before returning to play.  Your child’s doctor can determine if additional evaluation or testing is needed by a concussion specialist.  Cognitive and physical rest after the diagnosis is the necessary treatment.  In addition, returning to play should be a gradual process while watching for recurring symptoms.

Returning to play is the challenging part of managing kids with TBI.  Determining when kids can safely return to their activity is highly dependent on the athlete’s continuing symptoms. If an athlete is still having daily headaches, for example, then it is not appropriate for them to play.  However, it is impossible for parents, coaches, and doctors to assess if an athlete is still having headaches.... unless the athlete tells us!!  And, as most parents of uber-athletes know, if a kid wants to play in the upcoming homecoming game, they may not tell us of continuing symptoms so they can be medically cleared.  Therefore, here lies the problem.  Self-reporting of symptoms is not always accurate.

Major academies like the AAP and AAN have issued new statements and guidelines in order to direct care of our athletes who sustain a concussion.  The CDC online and on Facebook has an informative campaign to educate players, coaches, and parents about the serious nature of these injuries.  If you have an athlete in your home, take a moment to review the signs and symptoms of concussion. Play hard, play well, play safe.

P.S. For your athlete to read.