More than 6.5 million children in the United States at the middle school level and younger will be participating in a high-velocity collision sport this year. Early recognition and treatment of children with head injuries can be lifesaving.
Traumatic brain injuries consist of a range of disorders with concussion being the most mild. Typical symptoms including headache, dizziness, confusion and visual abnormalities come on suddenly after a blow to the head.
Sports of the highest concern are football, hockey and soccer since they attract the highest numbers of participants in the fall and winter. This also coincides with the academic year and an injury may impede success in the classroom.
Children are a particularly challenging population given the increased vulnerability of young developing brains and a child’s inability to clearly express symptoms. Underlying medical problems including ADHD and migraine headaches are known to prolong recovery from head injury.
Early recognition of symptoms during a contest requires careful observation by coaches, parents and officials. Athletes who are slow to rise, have a staggering gait, hold their heads or hold onto another player for support after a forceful collision should be pulled from the contest for further evaluation.
Among the most important steps parents can take to protect their children is to investigate what team they will be playing for. Meet the coaching staff to be sure their goals of promoting good health habits, team spirit and physical fitness are the same as yours. Youth sports are not boot camp and efforts should not be directed to “toughening” the participants.
Recent studies have shown that having a licensed health care professional associated with a team promotes early recognition, treatment and recovery from sports concussion.
If symptoms persist or worsen at anytime, a physician visit is warranted, preferably with someone who has special experience in treating neurologic injuries.
Parenting a child who participates in a high-velocity collision sport requires effort.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at email@example.com