How to handle head injuries in young athletes

SCNOW (Pee Dee, SC)

September 18, 2022

As summer cools down, and school sports heat up, many athletes may find themselves sitting on the sidelines due to injuries.

For parents, the most alarming are injuries to the head.

Sometimes a bump on the head is nothing to worry about. However, some head injuries are serious.

Blows to the head can injure the brain. The brain can also be injured due to sudden neck movements. This occurs when an injury to the body causes the head to quickly change direction, like when athletes collide on the field. When mild brain injury occurs, it’s called a concussion. Thankfully, with proper care, concussions are usually short-lived.

However, it’s still important for the athlete to get examined and treated. Some head injuries may be more serious than a simple concussion, and untreated concussions can lead to long-term problems.

Concussions occur in 1-in-5 middle and high school students. Students who play contact sports, such as football, have the highest risk of having a head injury.

Injuries are difficult to prevent, and it’s hard to convince young athletes to slow down. No helmet has been shown to prevent a concussion, but proper headgear can help decrease the risk of other more serious head injuries. Players should always follow the rules, and football players should avoid head-first tackling.

Head injuries need to be checked out by the right person.

At school events, the athletic trainer can decide if an athlete needs to be seen by a clinician. If red flag signs are present, they need to be taken to the emergency room right away. Even after they’ve been examined, continue to watch for red flags.

Typical concussion symptoms include: headache, nausea and vomiting, trouble balancing, blurry vision, unable to stand bright lights or noise, feeling sleepy or tired, and a hard time focusing. Red flags symptoms include one pupil bigger than the other, trouble staying awake, headache that gets worse, weakness, vomiting a lot, trouble speaking, memory loss, not recognizing familiar people, and weird or unusual behavior.

When an athlete has a concussion, it is very important to care for them properly. Returning to normal is sometimes a slow process and may take up to two weeks or more.

The athletic trainer and clinician will help guide the athlete through the process.

First, they should stop all activity right away. Continuing to play could worsen the injury. A second blow to the head could lead to “second impact syndrome” which is rare but could be fatal. The first one to two days after injury should be spent resting. The athlete should avoid homework, physical activity, and any screens, such as computers, phones, TVs or tablets.

The athlete can return to school after two days. Returning to sports starts with light activity, such as jogging or biking once all symptoms are gone.

Next, the athlete may begin light sport-specific practice. The athlete can then rejoin drills, and finally return to full contact. Once they have gone through these steps, the athlete can play in games like normal.

It’s important to prevent, recognize, and treat concussions because they can have long term effects. Some athletes may suffer from “post-concussion syndrome.” They may have headaches, feel dizzy, and have trouble sleeping for up to three months.

Also, athletes who get many concussions are more likely to struggle in school and may also develop depression or anxiety.

Head injuries are common in student athletes and can result in long-term issues if they are not noticed or given proper care. Parents should always be on alert for signs and have a plan in place. Doing so can keep sports safe and fun.

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