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Heads Up! Signs of Sports Concussions in Young Athletes

Concussion Awareness Protocol

Sports-related concussions continue to be a major health concern in young athletes. Concussions represent an estimated 8.9% of all high school athletic injuries. The sport with the highest risk of concussion in males for high school is football. In girls’ sports, the rate of concussion is highest in girls’ soccer and basketball. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines concussion as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. The brain bouncing or twisting in the skull creates chemical changes which can damage brain cells. An individual may not necessarily lose consciousness.

Common Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion:

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness, double or blurred vision
  • Bothered by light or noise
  • Feeling mentally foggy
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Feeling irritable, anxious, more emotional than usual
  • Drowsiness and/or fatigue
  • Trouble falling asleep

Children are more vulnerable to concussions due to their immature, developing nervous and musculoskeletal system. The management of a young athlete with concussion involves a unique, individualized plan and interdisciplinary collaboration that includes education about concussions, expectations for recovery, and assessment of deficits by a healthcare professional. Once an individualized plan of care is complete, the athlete can gradually return to physical activity.

After sustaining a concussion, it is important to avoid activities that place the athlete at risk of sustaining another concussion. The athlete should be symptom free before returning to play and should not be allowed to return to play on the same day as the injury. Return to sport or activities should be performed in a graduated stepwise program. The goals of the program should include gradual reintroduction of work/school activities, gradually increase target heart rate with activity, sports specific exercise movements, non-contact drills that promote increased thinking during sport, restore confidence and obtain full clearance to participate in sport.

It might be difficult to fully prevent concussions but there are things that can be done to lower the risks of sustaining one. It is important to wear properly fitted equipment such as helmets, headgear, and mouth guards. Also, education and awareness of concussions, neck strengthening exercises, rule changes and proper enforcement of rules can help reduce the likelihood of concussions.

Michelle Yang, pediatric physical therapist

Michelle Yang, PT, DPT, CSCS, has a special interest in working with young athletes and injury prevention. She is certified in kinesiotape and selective functional movement assessment. Additionally, she is a certified Schroth therapist for scoliosis specific treatment. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and training for marathons.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.