According to the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI), athletes in the United States experience anywhere from 1.6 to 3.8 million recreation and sports-related concussions each year. This shocking statistic isn’t just a number. Behind each concussion, there are concerned parents watching in the stands, worried teammates and coaches on the sidelines and a player in need of significant recuperation.
You want the best for your child and their safety during school-organized sports matters. Beyond the protective equipment and game rules, understanding how to prevent concussions in sports is a crucial safety measure. With effective concussion prevention strategies, your child can increase their chances of playing the sport they love without a season-ending injury.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a concussion as a kind of traumatic brain injury. Most concussions result from a jolt, bump or blow to the head. Though they are not life-threatening, a concussion should be taken seriously, so an athlete can make a full and successful recovery.
Concussions are common among young athletes, with up to 2.5 million teens reporting a sports-related concussion in 2017. This frequency is linked to the types of motion and contact athletes face during practice and games.
A sudden jolt can force an athlete’s head and brain to move back and forth quickly. Concussion blows typically last mere moments, but their impact is great. Forceful movement makes the brain twist or bounce within the skull. This jarring motion can cause chemical and metabolic changes in the brain, as well as stretching and damage to the brain cells.
Concussions can happen at any age, but children and teenagers tend to perform activities that put them at a greater risk for head injuries — this may include organized sports, rough play, falling and more. When compared to adults, younger children may be more prone to concussions because their brains are still developing, and they are more susceptible to injury.
According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), approximately 64 percent of concussions happen during games, and 36 percent happen in practice. Concussions can happen whether an athlete is wearing safety gear or not, though the risk is lower with proper protection.
The AAP identified three common concussion causes among high school athletes:
Though these are common causes, concussions can happen any time an individual receives a rapid, sharp blow to the head.
Some high impact sports have higher instances of concussions given the amount of rough contact during game play. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports the following sports to have the highest concussion rates:
Other high impact sports that pose concussion risks include the following:
Even non-high impact sports can present a concussion risk if a participant is involved in an accident. These sports include:
Concussion prevention is paramount to keeping young athletes safe and healthy. It’s most effective to address how concussions can be prevented in sports by breaking down recommendations for each game type.
College and high school football players experience a high risk for concussions from tackling. According to the CDC, tackling accounts for nearly two-thirds of football concussions. Positions that frequently and receive tackles — such as linebackers and running backs — experience a majority of concussions among football team members.
The following are practical tips to help avoid football-related concussions:
Soccer concussion statistics show a distinct imbalance between male and female players. Female soccer players face an increased risk for concussions compared to male players. Most soccer concussions happen when a player is heading the ball. In these instances, athletes may make contact with another player who is also trying to head the ball or may strike the goalpost or ball with extreme force.
The following are practical tips to help avoid soccer-related concussions:
Basketball is another sport in which female players have a higher concussion risk than males. Most basketball-related concussions happen when a player collides with another player, including during charges and scoring drives.
The following are practical tips to help avoid basketball-related concussions:
Both field and ice hockey pose concussion risks for players. Field hockey does not allow checking, which eliminates a major concussion hazard. Instead, most field hockey concussions occur when a player makes contact with a hockey stick or ball. In addition, field hockey players are most likely to sustain a concussion while defending or chasing a loose ball.
The following are practical tips to help avoid field hockey-related concussions:
Ice hockey has a number of additional concussion concerns based on its game play. Nearly two-thirds of ice hockey concussions happen from contact with another player, and the remaining happen during checking. Players in the wing position are especially susceptible to these concussion risks.
The following are practical tips to help avoid ice hockey-related concussions:
At its core, wrestling is a contact sport that requires sudden movements in close proximity with other wrestlers. More than half of all wrestling concussions happen during takedowns, which have the potential to slam a wrestler’s head into the mat.
The following are practical tips to help avoid wrestling-related concussions:
Volleyball concussions tend to happen when players are diving for a ball or making contact with other players when digging or passing. Players in the hitter or setter positions also have the highest risk of concussion.
The following are practical tips to help avoid volleyball-related concussions:
Men’s and women’s lacrosse employ different rules, which affect the concussion risks for each gender. Women’s lacrosse does not allow checking. Accordingly, the greatest concussion risks for female players include contact between a player and crosse while defending or ball handling.
The following are practical tips to help avoid lacrosse-related concussions for women:
Men’s lacrosse does allow checking, which increases the amount of physical contact players have. Most concussions among male lacrosse players stem from player to player contact — especially for midfielders. Common actions that lead to concussions include being body checked, chasing a ball, checking another player and defending.
The following are practical tips to help avoid lacrosse-related concussions for men:
Concussions occur less frequently in amateur boxing than they do professionally, but they are still a notable concern. In fact, amateur boxers face a 13 percent risk of concussion during each match. Shorter matches and certain safety measures help keep amateur boxers safe while participating in a high contact, high impact sport.
The following are practical tips to help avoid boxing-related concussions:
Most rugby players compete without padding and endure high impact, full-body hits. Concussions are a significant concern in this sport as players experience football-like head contact without a helmet to protect their brain. Common actions that lead to violent contact include scrumming, tackling and rucking.
The following are practical tips to help avoid rugby-related concussions:
In addition to concussion prevention measures, it’s important to familiarize yourself with common concussion symptoms. The sooner you identify your child’s concussion, the better you can address their needs and support their recovery. Concussion symptoms tend to show up soon after a strong blow, but in some cases, an athlete may not develop clear symptoms for several hours or days.
Depending on your child’s age, it may be more difficult for them to understand and communicate their symptoms. Young children may not comprehend what is happening, and older kids may downplay their symptoms in order to continue playing. In any case, a swift diagnosis is key.
A parent or coach may notice some of the following symptoms if a player has experienced a concussion:
In addition to symptoms you notice, a player may report feeling some of the following:
If you suspect your child may have a concussion, monitor their symptoms consistently after the jolt. If the symptoms worsen, contact a doctor right away.
Many schools utilize concussion baseline testing to help healthcare professionals make an accurate concussion diagnosis. When baseline testing occurs, a player takes a standardized exam before their season begins. This exam is specially designed to establish a baseline for an athlete’s cognitive abilities when in optimal health, including memory skills, concentration, attention span and more.
A baseline test may also assess the following medical history characteristics, which could impact concussion recovery:
If the player shows signs of a concussion, a professional can administer the baseline test to measure the effect the injury had on their brain. A player’s post-injury baseline testing results can help determine how long the player will need to recover before returning to normal activities.
In addition to baseline testing, a healthcare professional may order an imaging test or recommend overnight observation. A CT scan may be necessary if a player experiences severe headaches, repeated vomiting, seizures or worsening symptoms. The scans can help identify the severity of a traumatic brain injury as well as determine if there is any bleeding or swelling.
Overnight observations can help monitor a player’s symptoms and how they may be developing. Depending on your healthcare provider’s assessment, you may be able to complete monitoring at home by checking on your child through the night.
Concussion treatments utilize short-term life changes to help a player recover gradually. A majority of concussion recovery involves extended periods of sleep and rest. Most individuals will begin to feel better a few weeks after their concussion. Depending on the severity of the concussion and your child’s medical history, it could take several months for them to resume normal activities. This is known as post-concussive syndrome and should be addressed with the help of your medical provider.
During recovery, the CDC recommends a slow progression from extended rest to normal activity:
Keep in mind that the recovery process should be guided and monitored by doctors. Failure to allow for proper healing before resuming sports can increase your child’s recovery time and time away from sports.
If your child suffers a concussion, they may feel lingering symptoms or motor difficulties when returning to normal activities. Studies confirm those with previous concussions are two times more likely to sustain a musculoskeletal injury during activity. No parent wants their child to experience a sports-related concussion or injury. When precautions fail, and you find yourself looking for quality care, you need someone with experience you can trust.
At OrthoBethesda, we adopt a conservative treatment approach to address musculoskeletal injuries. We take special care to evaluate injuries, assess the need for therapy and work to find a solution before recommending injections or surgery. Our team of highly trained orthopedic doctors and surgeons can provide specialized care for a variety of conditions while keeping your communication and comfort needs in mind.
For more information about effective treatments or to set up an appointment, contact us today.