The prevalence of concussions among young athletes has seen a concerning spike in recent years. Brainline recently reported a study that concluded 3.8 million concussions were suffered as a direct consequence of sports in the United States last year. The report also estimated that 50 percent of these cases probably went unreported and, therefore, were never treated.
In today’s environment of information overload, that statistic may sound impossible to believe. Concussion awareness is so prevalent, even the NFL has been forced to admit it is a real problem with horrific long-term consequences. How can parents and coaches be allowing this to happen?
Well, I am a dad. I have three teens. They all play “dangerous” sports. I am a personal injury attorney who represents children with brain injuries. I, of all people, should know better. Yet, I am guilty of downplaying head injuries to my own kids on the field of play. I have actually supported their coaches’ decisions to keep them going after significant head contact. I even supported my oldest son’s decision to keep playing after multiple confirmed concussions that were causing chronic headaches.
It was not until we had a meeting with a brain surgeon to address the headaches that I “woke up.” The doctor stared me in the face and said, “you are not leaving this office until you understand that this boy needs to quit his sport. He can’t get another concussion, ever.” Message received. But why did it take me so long to hear it?
The Hidden Dangers of The Word ‘Concussion’
If your child has ever played a contact sport, you may have heard the term concussion thrown around as casually as someone would talk about the common cold. According to an article published by Loma Linda University Health (L.L.U.), health experts are finding that the overuse of the word ‘concussion’ in the culture of competitive sports and recreation is having unintended consequences on how players and their parents perceive the severity of brain injuries. In fact, certain sports are starting to see them as normal.
The most significant concern expressed by medical professionals is that adolescent athletes are not taking head injuries as seriously as they should be. Some athletes are brushing off head injuries after a brief rest, jumping back in the game instead of visiting the doctor. Others, who have been diagnosed with multiple concussions from the same sport, see these injuries as just a part of the game. Physicians are also finding athletes are hiding possible symptoms of concussions from coaches and parents in order to continue competing, posing a serious threat to their long-term health and safety.
Parents of young athletes have also been misled about the dangers of concussions from overexposure to the word in mainstream media. In the last few years, concussions have become a hot topic in the sports and medical industries. Many retired and current players have stepped forward to highlight the public health crisis of untreated brain injuries in professional sports. However, according to a 2017 study published in Science Direct, researchers suggested that using the term concussion to describe a mild brain injury “lacks any diagnostic precision and at worst encourages a lazy diagnostic approach.” The overuse of the term and inaccurate portrayal of concussions in the media has misguided parents into only looking out for symptoms of severe brain injuries and dismissing concussions in mild forms as a serious threat.
Brain injuries of any severity should not be taken lightly. They can lead to permanent damage and the interruption of brain development. Unlike other types of mild bodily injuries, mild brain injuries such as concussions can still result in irreversible damage and a lifetime of cognitive challenges.
We do not need to ban our children from participating in competitive sports. We doneed to stay informed of the risks, and the preventive measures available for reducing head injuries. Being educated about concussions increases your ability to avoid brain injuries and to identify when an injury has occurred to get the proper help when needed.
What Is A Concussion?
A concussion is not a simple bump or scrape on the head. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), a concussion is a traumatic brain injury. These injuries often occur due to a bump, blow, or jolt to the head caused by a traumatic external force.
According to WebMD, concussions can be sub-classified as mild, moderate, or severe using a grading system from 1 to 3:
- Grade 1 (mild):An athlete does not lose consciousness but could be dazed and confused for a period lasting from 15 to 20 minutes.
- Grade 2 (moderate):An athlete still does not lose consciousness but could be dazed and confused for a period lasting longer than 20 minutes. They may also experience memory lapses.
- Grade 3 (severe):An athlete loses consciousness for a brief period of time and often does not remember events occurring just before the injury.
When the head is rapidly and forcefully moved back and forth, the brain crashes into the sides of the skull. This movement can be extremely traumatic for the brain, causing chemical changes, including the stretching and damaging of brain cells.
The severity of a concussion and the symptoms an individual experiences after an injury depends on the areas of the brain affected by the traumatic force. Closed head injuries, frequently seen in patients with concussions, involve damage to several areas of the brain. Symptoms and deficits from these types of injuries may not show up right away and can change as a child’s brain continues to develop and grow.
The C.D.C. reports concussion patients can experience both short and long term consequences of a mild traumatic brain injury, including:
- Sensation: trouble balancing, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting.
- Thinking: memory lapses, trouble reasoning, or delayed recall of information.
- Language: trouble with expressions, difficulty communicating, or difficulty understanding.
- Emotion: depression, personality changes, anxiety, aggression, or social inappropriateness.
Sports-Related Concussion Trends
Statistics published by Brainline show that sports and recreation-related concussions are now the leading cause of emergency room visits among children and teens. Every athlete is at risk of sustaining a concussion regardless of what sport they choose. Some populations with higher incidences of concussions include:
- Athletes who play football, hockey, basketball, soccer, or rugby;
- Male athletes who play football, basketball, or bicycle;
- Female athletes who participate in cycling, playground activities, and horseback riding; and
- Athletes who play more than one sport or participate in multiple recreational activities.
An alarming number of young athletes are admitting they have gotten more than one concussion while playing competitive sports. In a studypublished by the C.D.C. in 2018, approximately 2.5 million students of high school age reported sustaining at least one concussion in 2017; 1 million reported two or more. Almost 70%of these athletes admitted that they continued to play through concussion symptoms; 40% of them did not tell their coaches they were impaired.
The Misconceptions of ‘Mild’ T.B.I.
Concussion classification is confusing for parents and athletes. Concussions are considered “mild” traumatic brain injuries. But, the word “mild” is deceiving. Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Tanya Minasian, thinks there is a concerning ‘disconnect’ when it comes to how people perceive concussions in modern-day competitive sports. “While there are varying degrees of severity, a concussion is still a traumatic brain injury,” Minasian says. In other words, concussions may not be penetrating injuries or skull fractures, but they are still traumatic brain injuries and they should be understood as such.
Another problem is the phenomenon where greater experience with a particular injury seems to create a comfort level with that injury. Athletes who play contact sports such as football, rugby, basketball, and soccer are viewing concussions as part of the game; like a rolled ankle, or bruised shin; leaving players to “shrug off” or “play through” signs of a Grade One or Grade Two concussion.
What To Look For
Early intervention is the key to positive outcomes after brain injuries. Parents should take all head injuries seriously and watch closely for the following signs and symptoms:
Mild to Moderate
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Slurred Speech
- Severe Headaches
- Loss of Consciousness
Any of these symptoms warrant a visit to your child’s doctor. Children who sustain concussions may require rest and relaxation to help their brain recover from the trauma. Only a trained medical professional will be able to determine the level of recovery needed.
If a child is exhibiting any severe symptoms of a concussion, health experts suggest calling 911 right away. These injuries may result in the need for surgery to remove bone, blood clots, or to treat harmful swelling of the brain. Waiting to be examined or neglecting to see a doctor could lead to more damage.
How To Prevent Concussions
Most of the time, concussions are entirely preventable. If your child continues to become injured in the same sport, it may be time for the tough discussion on whether this activity is best for their long-term health. Other preventive measures that can reduce the chance of injuries include:
- Playing It Safe: If your child has sustained a head injury it’s best to sit out of the action. Any hit to the head can cause stress to the brain, and symptoms do not always show immediately.
- Don’t Play Aggressively: Educate your teens on the dangers of aggressive play in contact sports. Sports have rules to protect athletes from unnecessary harm. Avoid using your head or helmet as a tool when playing to reduce the risk of head injuries over time.
- Wear Protective Gear: Helmets worn during sports should always fit properly- one size does not fit all. Loose helmets may fall off and leave athletes exposed to injury. And helmets that are too small can place additional pressure on the head before an injury occurs.
- Get The ‘All Clear’ To Play: Get the ‘all clear’ from a doctor that your child or teen is ready to return to their sport. Jumping into the game too soon after an injury can have a negative impact on their recovery, putting them at an increased risk for secondary injuries.
Brain Injury Awareness In Maryland
Our law firm works with victims of traumatic brain injuries. We have seen the devastating results these injuries can have on individuals and families. The most heartbreaking stories involve victims who were injured in preventable accidents. We have partnered with the Brain Injury Association of Maryland to educate the community on brain injury avoidance, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Reducing the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries starts by raising awareness right in our own back yard. Knowing this, the Brain Association of Maryland joins local chapters around the nation every March to kick off National Brain Injury Awareness Month. This massive safety initiative was created to honor those impacted by brain injuries and to promote the need for prevention and resources. Through this month-long campaign, the Brain Injury Association of Maryland partners with local organizations to educate communities about brain injuries, to abolish the myths leading to untreated conditions, de-stigmatize brain injury through outreach programs, and to promote support available to those supporting loved ones with brain injuries.
This October, D’Amore Law is partnering with the Brain Injury Association of Maryland as a leading sponsor of their Scarecrow Classic 5k. This event will rally survivors, families, friends, and supporters around the common goal of raising awareness about brain injury and raise money to support local programs. At D’Amore Law, we understand the global implications and life-altering affects these serious injuries can have on individuals and families. We are proud to support these deserving survivors on their long and challenging road to recovery.
For more information on this year’s Scarecrow Classic 5K and how to support this worthy cause, click here.
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