Brain Injury Awareness Month: Understanding Youth Sports Concussions

Northwestern Medicine
Orthopaedics March 01, 2012
Brain ModelAn estimated 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year, most of which are mild traumas, such as a concussion.  As we enter into Brain Injury Awareness month, experts encourage parents, athletes, coaches and trainers, to be mindful of the risks that these unexpected and sometimes life altering injuries can present.  A TBI results from a blow, bump, jostling or penetrating injury to the head that disrupts normal function. While often mistaken as a danger present only in contact sports, concussions are a risk for any young athlete and children are at greater risk than adults for long term damage due to a condition called second impact syndrome. 

“Second impact syndrome can occur when a second blow to the head happens prior to the child recovering from the initial concussion. This can cause the brain to swell rapidly, a serious medical emergency,” explained said Hunt Batjer, MD, chair of the department of neurological surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The brain is more vulnerable to injury after the first hit, so even minimal force can cause serious, irreversible damage.”

Since a concussion can be devastating to a young athlete, parents and those overseeing youth sports must be well-versed in the signs and symptoms of a concussion and also keep an injured child out of the activity until fully recovered. Kids take longer to recover from a concussion than adults; in some cases they may need to refrain from sports or physical activity for up to six weeks.

“When recovering, resting the brain is vital,” said Batjer, who also co-chairs the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee. “That means no watching television, reading or surfing the internet. The injured child needs to sleep and remove stimuli while they are getting over a concussion.”

Last year, Illinois passed a new law to help protect student athletes from concussions. To help coaches, parents and athletes understand sports-related concussions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made a number of resources available through their Heads Up: Concussions in Youth Sports* program. The CDC also has resources available for TBI* information.

Remember to play safe and be mindful of the signs and symptoms* of concussion in order to prevent long term injury. 
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