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Sport Related Concussion: New Research and Findings

Row of sports icons for Willows Pediatrics

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) an estimated 1.1 million to 1.9 million children and teens are treated for recreational or sport-related concussion every year in the United States.  As most parents are aware, the management of concussion is important to ensure that their child can return safely to their sport or activity.

Given how common concussions are, a great deal of research has gone in to determine the best ways to evaluate sport concussions, and over the past few years guidance on the treatment of injured players has evolved.  In its first update in eight years, the AAP presents the results of the latest research on the treatment of concussions in the report, “Sport-Related Concussion in Children and Adolescents“.

The main finding is that current research shows it is best to reduce, but not eliminate, a return to some physical and cognitive activity in the days following a concussion. In fact, prolonged reductions may result in negative effects on recovery. According to Dr. Halstead, an associate professor of pediatrics and of orthopedics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, “Athletes absolutely need to take an immediate break from play after a concussion, but we find that, during the recovery process it is best to encourage a reasonable amount of activity, such as brisk walking.”  He also notes that, “Students shouldn’t need to take a prolonged amount of time away from school, though they should work with teachers on lessening the academic workload.”

Many parents will be surprised to learn there is no research showing that a youth’s use of electronics, such as computers, television, video games or texting, is harmful after concussion. In fact, complete elimination of electronics may lead to a child’s feeling of social isolation, anxiety or depression. The AAP report also found most pediatric athletes will recover from symptoms within four weeks of their injury.  However, the long-term effects of a single concussion or multiple concussions has not been determined yet, and more research is needed in this area.

While not all concussions can be prevented, some may be avoided. Athletes should be taught safe playing techniques and to follow the rules of the game. Most importantly, every athlete needs to know how crucial it is to let their coach, athletic trainer, and parent know if they have hit their head or have symptoms of a head injury, even if it means stopping play at the time. If he or she reports one or more symptoms of concussion, or if you notice the symptoms yourself, keep your child or adolescent out of play and contact us as soon as possible.  After evaluating your child, we can work with you to develop a written return to play protocol and decide when it is ok to return to practice and games.

Despite concerns about the effect of concussion, the AAP concludes the benefits of sports activity surpass the dangers of playing a sport. Aside from having fun and staying active, playing a sport can help your child or adolescent develop leadership and teamwork skills, build self-confidence, and deal with success and failure in a way that that will help them through life.  Below is a chart from the AAP’s Healthy Children to better understand the symptoms of concussion.  As always, please call your doctor, PA or nurse if you have any questions!