NBC 10 I-Team Extra: What’s changed when it comes to concussions in youth sports?

CBS Austin

October 3, 2021

As youth football players take the field this fall, there’s a better understanding of the potential consequences of concussions, how to prevent them and how to treat them when they happen.

Major changes include better technology inside helmets and pads, and changes in how the game is played.

So the NBC 10 I-Team wanted to know: how well do modern helmets and pads protect kids? And what do parents of young football players need to know?

We spoke with Dr. Peter Kriz, a sports medicine specialist at University Orthopedics and Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

“There is no concussion-proof helmet,” Kriz said. “Any sport you can get a concussion in, even if it’s not a collision sport per say.”

Dr. Kriz said football has the most concussions, but that’s party because it has the highest number of kids participating.

“Football has somewhat been demonized, in my opinion,” he said.

When concussions in kids happen, treatment has changed, Dr. Kriz said. In the past, a concussion was often considered a 7-10 day injury. But now, doctors realized young patients often need longer to heal before returning to play.

“I think most people think a concussion lasts 7-10 days, because that’s what we’ve been told in the media. Some of that has been driven by the schedule in NFL football, which is 7 days,” Dr. Kriz said. “We’ve moved away from that now and recognized that particularly for kids with developing brains, it does take longer. It’s not uncommon to have a concussion last 2 or 3 weeks.”

While a young patient may feel better, it can take up to 28 days for blood flow in the brain to return to normal.

“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to come back in week 3 or 4,” Dr. Kriz said.

In the past, kids with concussions were often treated with so-called “cocoon therapy,” kept in a dark room for days at a time. But that’s no longer thought to be the best course of treatment.

“We don’t do this cocoon therapy anymore, where we put someone in a dark room and really socially isolate them, because we found that leads to a reactive depression. The athlete gets deconditioned, and they really lose hope about returning to their sport or to their social group,” Dr. Kriz said.

So what can parents do to keep young players safe? Younger children don’t have as much neck strength, meaning it’s even more critical that their helmets and pads fit correctly and aren’t too heavy. While helmets and pads are reconditioned during the off season, it’s a good idea to check them yourself, too.

“One thing I would tell parents: if your child is issued a football helmet from their youth sport organization, inspect it,” Dr. Kriz said. “Make sure that the equipment fits properly, and is updated. Don’t assume that that’s been done.”

Parents also should keep in mind where their child is when it comes to size and growth, especially compared to other players.

“At the high school level we have a 115-pound freshman, playing against a 200-pound senior. They’re clearly in different stages of physical maturity,” Dr. Kriz said.

Another tip: encourage kids to play more than one sport, but just one contact sport per season. That way, they have options to stay fit and participate in case of an injury.

“In my house, I had 2 kids that played sports. We had a rule: you can play one helmeted sport,” Dr. Kriz said. “Participation in sports is really paramount for kids development.”

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