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Prevent and Treat Sports Concussions

Understand sports concussions to protect your young athlete's brain.

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Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If your child plays sports, concussions are a risk. While you can't prevent sports concussions altogether, you can reduce your child's risk and make sure he or she is treated adequately before returning to play.

Which Athletes Are Most at Risk for Sports Concussions?

Kids who play sports that involve contact, with other players, the ground, or other obstacles, are at risk of sustaining concussions. A 2010 study of emergency department visits examined kids ages 8-13 and 14-19. In the younger group:

  • Individual or leisure sports with the most concussions: Bicycling, playground play, snow skiing, skateboarding, horseback riding
  • Organized team sports with the most concussions: Football, basketball, soccer, baseball, ice hockey

In the older age group:

  • Individual or leisure sports with the most concussions: Bicycling, snow skiing, combative sports, skateboarding, horseback riding
  • Organized team sports with the most concussions: Football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, baseball

Reduce the Chance of Sports Concussions

Regardless of the sport your child plays, make sure he or she has all the necessary protective gear (such as helmets, faceguards, and mouthguards), that it is in good condition, and that your athlete uses it religiously.

Also find out what the best practices are for your child's sport with regard to concussions. Does the school or league have a concussion policy, with return-to-play guidelines? Are rules and equipment regarding concussions up to date? (For example, many soccer leagues now prohibit younger kids from heading the ball, since they may not have the skills to do it safely. Baseball teams may use "safety" or "reduced injury factor" balls with younger players.)

Especially if your child plays a contact sport at the high school level, his cognitive and physical skills may be assessed before the season begins. If he later sustains a concussion, this pre-injury score can be used to measure against a post-injury score. One commonly used assessment is ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).

Treatment of Sports Concussions

If your child does suffer a concussion, even a seemingly mild one, it is important that he or she not return to play the same day. Your child should immediately be evaluated on the sidelines by a doctor, certified athletic trainer, or a coach trained to recognize symptoms of concussions. If a concussion is diagnosed, your child should not return to play until he has been evaluated and cleared by a qualified medical professional.

Athletes should not return to their sport or to any physical activity until their symptoms are gone. Once they are symptom-free and have been cleared by a professional, they can gradually return to play (taking at least 24 hours for each of these steps): first light aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming; then, sport-specific exercise without head impact; training drills (non-contact) and light resistance training; normal practice; and finally, game play.

Kids who have suffered a concussion should also rest their brains ("cognitive rest"). This may mean missing school or attending on a shortened schedule; reducing or delaying tests and homework; and cutting back or avoiding leisure reading, video games, TV, and computer time. The consequences of inadequate treatment for sports concussions, such as second-impact syndrome, can be quite serious.

Sources:

Halstead MD, Mark E.; Walter MD, Kevin D.; and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Clinical Report--Sport-Related Concussion in Children and Adolescents, Pediatrics 2010, 126:597–615.

Bakhos MD, Lisa L.; Lockhart MD, Gregory R.; Myers, Richard; Linakis MD, PhD, James G. Emergency Department Visits for Concussion in Young Child Athletes. Pediatrics 2010;126:e550–e556.

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