Concussions: A Growing Concern for Young Athletes

Jul 10, 2013 - 
Sarah Lang-Rodean BS, CSCS
ECHN Strength & Conditioning Coach


More and more, reports are being generated about the frequency and severity of concussions in young athletes and the lasting negative cognitive, physical, and psychological effects that result.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a concussion as a brain injury induced by traumatic biomechanical forces secondary to direct or indirect forces to the head, which force the soft tissues of the brain into the skull. Also known as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), concussions can occur with or without a loss of consciousness and range in severity.

The CDC estimates that anywhere from 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States, most of which go untreated by medical professionals. Athletes who are not properly evaluated by medical professionals, or those who do not give themselves ample recovery time, are even more susceptible to further injury such as second impact syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and dementia pugilistica. There is growing evidence and research suggesting that players who sustain repeated concussions suffer far greater long-term consequences.

Second Impact Syndrome results when the brain suffers from a second concussion while still recovering from one prior. More fluid rushes to the area, putting increased pressure on the skull. This can immediately cause permanent damage and death. This severe outcome can happen if a player returns to play that day or even weeks later if the brain has not fully recovered

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive mild to severe head trauma. CTE is a progressive disease that can cause depression, memory loss, and premature Alzheimer's disease-like dementia. There is mounting evidence linking CTE to several deaths of former NFL players who have received countless concussive and sub-concussive blows

Dementia Pugilistica (DP) is another neurodegenerative disease that it develops progressively over time. DP results in declining mental ability, speech problems, lack of coordination, tremors, and Parkinson's Disease. It is most common in boxer’s but can affect athletes who have sustained repeated concussions and blows to the head as well.

In an attempt to prevent concussions coaches should reinforce proper technique in contact activities as well as address the importance of sportsmanship. Of equal significance, coaches and parents must encourage players to follow rules and safety precautions strictly. Ensure that safety equipment fits properly, has been maintained and is worn consistently.

Many teams and schools are now conducting computer-based neuro-psychological assessments prior to the start of a sports season. These tests measure an athlete's cognitive ability and set a baseline for testing brain function. Later in the season, these same neuropsychological tests can be an effective follow-up tool for assessing a player's condition.

The most common signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

Signs: The athlete appears dazed/stunned, confusion, moves clumsily, answers questions slowly, personality/behavior changes, forgets events before/ after hit, forgets plays, unsure of game, score, or opponent, loses consciousness.

Symptoms: Athlete suffers from headache, nausea, balance problems/dizziness, double/blurry vision, feeling sluggish, sensitivity to noise or light, feeling groggy, sluggish or foggy, concentration/memory problems, and confusion.

Some symptoms may appear immediately, while others may develop over days and even weeks. These symptoms may be subtle and be difficult to fully recognize. If you suspect that an athlete or child has suffered from a concussion implement a four-step action plan: remove the athlete from play, ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating concussions, inform parents/guardians of the child, Keep the athlete 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.



Sources

Concussions.Stop Sports Injuries. http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/resources/coaches-curriculum-toolkit/concussions.aspx.

Concussion in Sport. Center for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports/response.html. 2009.


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