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Rehab Insights is a blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

School Sports: What Parents Need to Know About Concussions

September 2, 2014
Barry Jordan, M.D., M.P.H.

football middle 2For many student-athletes and their parents, the new school year is not only about heading back to the classroom, but about getting back on the field as well. Whether your child is playing football in the fall, cheerleading in the winter or lacrosse in the spring, it’s important to know the facts about one of the more common injuries that can occur in school sports: concussions.

The good news is that the prevention and treatment of concussions has been gaining more attention in recent years, both in the media and in government. I was recently honored to attend President Obama’s Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit in Washington, D.C. Events like this are integral in educating the public and continuing to highlight just how serious a concussion can be—and the steps we can all take to prevent them.

As parents, you want to protect your children as much as possible, while still providing them with the experience of being active and part of a team. Here are a few key points to keep in mind as school sports seasons get underway:

Concussions can occur in any sport
While you may commonly hear about concussions in sports like football or boxing, the truth is that they can happen in any sport, to either boys or girls. In fact, a recent study from the University of Colorado Denver found that concussions accounted for 22 percent of injuries in both boys and girls lacrosse—only strains and sprains were more common. And while boys had a higher injury rate in lacrosse, a study last year found that elite female soccer players between ages 11 and 14 had a higher rate of concussion than has been reported in studies of female soccer players at the high school and college levels. The takeaway is that injuries like concussions occur across all sports and it’s important to know the signs and symptoms. For a list of common symptoms, see this information from the CDC.

Don’t play with an injury
For years, the “shake it off” mentality was extremely common in sports. Coaches, parents, and even the athletes themselves would encourage players to get back in the game and play through their injury. Thankfully, that mentality is changing these days, though it’s still important that everyone understands and reinforces the fact that no child should be playing with an injury—particularly a head injury. To that end, talk with the athletic director at your child’s school and make sure you know what the school’s policy is and what procedures are in place should your child experience a possible concussion.

Make sure all assessments are done before returning to play
If your child is injured, he should not go back in the game that day and should be evaluated by a qualified physician to make sure that the injury is properly managed. If a concussion is diagnosed, this would include being given adequate rest until he is completely asymptomatic and isn’t taking any medication. There are specific tools such as the Graded Return to Play Protocol and a computerized neuropsychological testing tool that can aid in determining when a child is ready to return to play. Keep in mind though, that these tools shouldn’t replace a cognitive evaluation. At Burke, for example, we offer an Outpatient Sports Related Concussion Management Program where students can be evaluated and treated following a head injury. Through the program, we offer a comprehensive battery of tests, including a neurological evaluation, neuropsychological testing and more.

Though most concussions will last only a few days—and most kids will return to play within a week to 10 days—making sure a student-athlete is completely ready to get back on the field can help prevent a second concussion and further complications down the road.

Learn more at our free event:
My colleagues, Marc Herceg, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Moore, PT, DPT, MS, NCS and I will be speaking more about this topic on September 16, when Burke is hosting a free educational event for parents on what to know about concussions. The presentation will include pertinent information on handling concussions, the latest guidelines, and how to keep kids safe. To learn more and to register, click here.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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