Head injuries and concussions have probably become the most worrisome injury for parents – especially when their kids play contact sports. There are even laws under review in numerous states trying to limit contact (focusing mostly on football and hockey) at young ages in the hopes of preventing head injuries and the possible future consequences that may follow. Although the consequences of head injuries, particularly multiple head injuries, are still under debate, it is important for parents to know when it is safe for their child to return to sports if a head injury does occur.
Signs & Symptoms of a Concussion
Recognition of concussion/head injury on the sideline is the first step in keeping your child safe. Coaches undergo training to help them understand what to do in the event of a concussion, but if you as a parent have concerns, it is important to advocate for your young athlete. If after a hard hit or a fall during a practice or a game your child looks slow to get up, complains of a headache, or isn’t able to answer simple questions from an athletic trainer, it is important for them to leave the game and be evaluated by a medical professional. “When in doubt, hold them out!” It is better to be more careful than less careful if there are any concerns. Any child with symptoms after a hit or fall should NEVER return to play the same day. Even with so many safety measures in place, we still see kids return to the game after a head injury that is likely a concussion. They are trying to be tough for their team or because of coaching pressure. This is never the right answer and it may prolong the course of their recovery.
Symptoms of concussion can often evolve over the first 24-48 hours—meaning your child may have a mild headache after a game and then feel dizzy, fatigued, nauseated, etc in the days that follow. I always tell patients when I see them quickly after a concussion—it is going to get worse before it gets better. Young athletes need to be followed closely by an athletic trainer, primary care physician, or sports medicine doctor so that symptoms can be monitored to determine treatment plans and course of action for return to play. There is no definite time period that an athlete should stay out of sports after a concussion. Every kid is different! Each athlete should be treated on an individual basis to determine when it is safe for them to go back. For some it may be a few days and for others it may be a few weeks to a few months.
When to Return to Sports
A healthcare provider should be involved in determining return to sports. We don’t allow kids to go out and play in a game the first day back after a concussion. The return is gradual so that symptoms can be monitored and we can confirm your child is ready to go back.
The bottom line is good education for coaches, parents, athletes, and physicians. Talk to your kids about concussions. Discourage “toughing it out” if they don’t feel well after a hit or fall during a game. It is always disappointing to come out of a game, especially a playoff or tournament game, but your brain will thank you for it!
More information about concussions and talking to your kids about concussions can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/index.html.