Whether to bond with family, escape from family or something in-between, there’s a good chance you or a loved one will be watching football this fall. This is not a new fall tradition – just ask anyone in the business of selling lounge chairs, televisions or surround sound systems. However, if your family gatherings are anything like mine, something is new to the party in recent years: talk of concussions.
Where we used to cheer the big hit, many of us now groan, knowing the likelihood of not only losing our favorite player for weeks, but also the long-term health ramifications. These concerns are not unjustified.
Between 2012 and 2015, the National Football League reported there were 206 or more concussions each season, and a 2014 study by Harvard University and Boston University researchers estimated that just one in 27 head injuries in college football are reported.
While professional and collegiate football may get the bulk of the attention, it’s a mistake to assume that concussions only happen at the highest levels of sports or don’t affect our kids.
In fact, a review of medical claims data conducted by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association finds total concussion diagnoses increased 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, and 71 percent among youth ages 10 to 19 over that same time span.
Now, let’s make one thing very clear. Increased concussion diagnoses are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite may be true. Due to increased awareness, parents and coaches at all levels are likely now increasingly mindful of head injuries and more willing to make sure affected players get proper medical treatment. This is a vast improvement over the “walk it off” days.
Still, the number of kids affected by concussions underscores that player safety concerns should not be limited to organized sports and professional leagues. After all, even recreational pursuits such as skiing, sledding and ice skating carry risks.
The pros have coaches, trainers and medical staff on the sidelines who know what look for and how to handle potential head injuries. What most of us typically have on our sidelines are volunteer coaches and other moms and dads.
Recognizing this, it only makes sense that parents and coaches at all levels become familiar with the basics of concussions.
A great place to start is on the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s website. HEADS UP to Youth Sports is a free, online training that covers the signs and symptoms of a concussion, as well as how to prevent concussions and know when it’s safe for kids to get back in the game. Additional resources can be found on the websites of health and sports organizations, such as the American Academy of Neurology and USA Football.
The purpose of making all this information available is to help prevent injuries and let families make more informed decisions about their kids’ activities. It’s not to label certain sports as “safe” and others “dangerous,” or to tell parents how to raise their kids.
If we are honest with ourselves, no aspect of our life is without risk. Science has even found that sitting on the couch is dangerous! Sports are and will remain an important part of healthy, active lifestyles. Following safety procedures and implementing concussion protocols is about keeping people involved in sports, not holding them out.
Concussion Signs and Symptoms (Source: Mayo Clinic)
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
- Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
- Dizziness or “seeing stars”
- Ringing in the ears
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response to questions
- Appearing dazed
Seek emergency care for an adult or child who experiences a head injury and symptoms such as:
- Repeated vomiting
- A loss of consciousness lasting longer than 30 seconds
- A headache that gets worse over time
- Changes in his or her behavior, such as irritability
- Changes in physical coordination, such as stumbling or clumsiness
- Confusion or disorientation, such as difficulty recognizing people or places
- Slurred speech or other changes in speech