Head Injuries in Youth Sports
January 11, 2010
Dr. Allen Sills
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability annually. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 5.3 million Americans, about 2 percent of the U.S. population, currently have a long-term or lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily living as a result of a TBI.
The severity of a TBI may range from "mild," i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to "severe," i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. Approximately 75 percent of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.
Recent data shows that, on average, approximately 1.4 million people sustain a TBI each year in the United States. Of those:
Among children ages 0 to 14 years, TBI results in an estimated
The number of people with TBI who are not seen in an emergency department or who receive no care is unknown.
Groups at Risk
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions also can occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a "ding," "getting your bell rung," or what seems to be mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.
Concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity. So, all coaches, parents, and athletes need to learn concussion signs and symptoms and what to do if a concussion occurs.
To help recognize a concussion, watch for the following two things among your athletes:
Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it's OK to return to play.
Remember, you can't see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks or longer.
If you suspect that an athlete has a concussion, implement an action plan:
As a coach or parent, you play a key role in preventing concussions and responding properly when they occur. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent concussions and ensure the best outcome for your athletes, the team, league or school.
Check with your league, schoo, or district about concussion policies. Concussion policy statements can be developed to include a commitment to safety, a brief description about concussion, and information on when athletes can safely return to play. Parents and athletes should sign the concussion policy statement at the beginning of each sports season.
Create a concussion action plan. To ensure that concussions are identified early and managed correctly, have an action plan in place before the season starts. This plan can be included in your school or district's concussion policy.
Educate athletes and other parents or coaches about concussion. Before the first practice, talk to athletes and parents, and other coaches and school officials about the dangers of concussion and potential long-term consequences of concussion. Explain your concerns about concussion and your expectations of safe play. Remind athletes to tell coaching staff right away if they suspect they have a concussion or that a teammate has a concussion.
Insist that safety comes first.
Teach athletes it's not smart to play with a concussion. Rest is key after a concussion. Sometimes athletes, parents, and other school or league officials wrongly believe that it shows strength and courage to play injured. Discourage others from pressuring injured athletes to play. Don't let your athlete convince you that they're "just fine."
Work closely with league or school officials. Be sure that appropriate individuals are available for injury assessment and referrals for further medical care. Enlist health care professionals (including school nurses) to monitor any changes in the athlete's behavior that could indicate that they have a concussion. Ask athletes or parents to report concussions that occurred during any sport or recreation activity. This will help in monitoring injured athletes who participate in multiple sports throughout the year.