Caution, Not Bubble Wrap: Protecting Kids in Sports (p. 1)

Posted on behalf of The Bell Law Firm, PLLC on Nov 30, 2010 in Wrongful Death

The NFL has stepped up its game, and parents, coaches and doctors are joining in the fight to reduce concussion in players of all sizes and ages, regardless of gender. The second most common injury in children's sports, concussions -- especially multiple concussions -- were enough of a risk to West Virginia's young athletes that the Secondary Schools Athletics Commission adopted rule changes even before the NFL. Most of the press coverage of sports-related head injuries has focused on boys' sports, even as research has shown that girls could be more likely to be seriously injured than boys.

A National Public Radio story tells the story of a 14-year-old soccer player who suffered two concussions three weeks apart. The first "didn't seem like such a big deal." The second, however, found her in the hospital undergoing tests for reaction time and awareness. She had lost consciousness and had a seizure when she went down. The combined injuries took their toll.

She found that she was sensitive to light and noise, that she got headaches from watching movies and that she wasn't speaking clearly -- her brain and her mouth weren't connected. Her parents took her to a specialist.

The medical profession has learned a lot about concussion recently, increasing their and our understanding of brain injury by leaps and bounds. A concussion used to be treated as a brain bruise, but research has led to a more sophisticated view: A concussion is really a problem with brain function. If you think about how a head injury usually occurs, it makes sense. A blow to the head causes the brain to slam to a stop. That stop causes every neuron in the brain to fire, all at once. The intense surge of energy causes a temporary malfunction of the brain's electrical and chemical signal system -- the system that makes it possible to think. Messed up system = messed up thinking.

The medical journal Pediatrics published a study earlier this year analyzed emergency room visits for girls and boys who had sustained a sports-related head injury . The researchers found that girls are more likely than boys to go to the hospital with concussion symptoms, but the reason was unclear. Boys may be reluctant to admit they are hurt, or girls' brains may be more vulnerable. Further study may be in the offing.

Unlike West Virginia, many states have not taken up the banner of concussion awareness and safety measures for young athletes. Fortunately, national organizations and government agencies have been taking up the slack.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, launched Heads Up earlier this year. The program was designed to raise awareness about concussion and to impress upon athletes, coaches and parents the importance of removing a player suspected of having suffered a concussion from the game and getting him or her to a doctor.

The American Academy of Neurology published recommendations earlier this year similar to the CDC's. If a player is injured and a concussion is possible, the player should be removed from the game and taken to a health professional who has experience with concussion. Only when a physician has cleared the student for play may he or she re-enter the game.

One school district has taken their efforts a few steps further by using ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), the online test used by the NFL to evaluate memory and reaction time. A poor performance -- for example, problems with memorization and slower reactions -- may mean a concussion. In the past 18 months, the test raised concerns about eight students, all of whom were benched.

Experts tout safety, but they also understand that kids need to be kids. Injuries are a normal part of growing up, but parents, coaches and the kids themselves can minimize the risk of serious injury by taking precautions.

By the way, the young soccer player profiled in the NPR story is making a nice recovery from her injuries.

Resource: National Public Radio "Parents, Coaches Worry About Concussion Risks" 11/29/10

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