Sports and Concussion – Where Young Brains Need Time to Develop by Phil Hossler, ATC

Youth sports and concussion are often not reported and not treated.

Sports concussion is a risk for youths.

Phil Hossler, expert on sports concussion in youth.

It is said that youth is wasted on those so young. That was probably said by an adult who was “not so young” anymore. While it is true that youth are and probably always have been emotionally and socially underdeveloped, neither of these can cause the problems that physically immature brain tissue can cause when impacted in youth sports. Sports and concussion are a frequent combination. As adult caregivers for youth sports, especially in athletic healthcare, it is important for us to remember that while a teen’s sprained ankle or pulled muscle may heal faster than ours, their brain tissue holds onto insult longer. So don’t rush them!

Youth sports are taking their lead from professional and collegiate lessons. Rule changes, practice time on and off, concussion legislation, and education are more common now than in any time previously in attempts to reduce injuries. Since not every school-aged concussion is sport-related, supervision for school personnel can be difficult or missing completely. While football is still the leading cause of sport concussion in males, and soccer is the leading one for females, don’t forget about skateboarding, bicycle falls, backyard hijinks, and playground mishaps. These all fall under youth sports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2007) estimates 1.7 million people obtain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) annually, with 75 percent of these being concussions. Children up to 14 years account for almost a half a million of the emergency room visits. While the CDC estimates that youth from 5-18 years account for 135,000 sports and recreation TBIs, since many concussive episodes go untreated and unreported, Langlois, Rutland-Brown, and Thomas (2006) suggest that the number of concussions may actually approach 3.8 million for youth and adults.

Recovery time doubles for each concussion in youth sports

A recent study reported in the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that recovery time is doubled for each concussion after the first one. The study found that it took up to 35 days for full recovery with no signs or symptoms if this was the second concussion in the past twelve months (Pediatrics. Jan, 2013). Matthew A. Eisenberg, MD, lead investigator, admits that relying on the self-reporting of symptoms by youth may have limitations. However, he states that “even after symptoms have improved and even after these neuropsychological tests have returned to normal, there’s still a vulnerability that can lead to a much more severe second concussion.”

As a certified athletic trainer of youth sports on the high school level, I spend more time teaching my athletes, coaches, parents, and teachers about concussion than I ever have before.

Children playing football risk concussions and other sports injuries.

Football is just one game where sports and concussion occur.

Mild brain injuries such as concussion are called the “invisible injury.” Professional football players have played on national television and not remembered the game due to a concussion suffered in the game. Youth sports and young students need to understand the impact that head trauma may have on their social, emotional, and physical, as well as school performances. In general, concussion affects mental stamina more than intellectual ability because the injured brain must work harder to accomplish anything, and so the student gets tired more easily.

So all adult caregivers in the youth’s “neighborhood such as teachers, parents, coaches, school nurses, physicians. and athletic trainers must be involved in the process and insist on “take your time!”

Phil Hossler is a certified athletic trainer at a large high in New Jersey. He is the author of four books and 35 professional articles on athletic healthcare topics.


Special Collection on Brain Injury Journey

Brain Injury Journey, Vol 1, features section on sports and concussion.

 This article is posted with permission from Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.

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