New protocols to keep our athletes safe
By Jeff S Pierce, DO
Concussions in youth sports is a subject on the minds of everyone involved these days. Participation in sports is an important part of the physical, mental, and social development of our youth. While it is meant to promote good health, sports carry an inherent risk of injury.
Studies are now finding that some athletes who have received subconcussive impacts—but have never shown any concussion symptoms—still have abnormal findings on certain tests of brain structure and function. It is not yet clear if these results were caused by too many impacts in a day, a season, a year, or even a lifetime, but one thing is clear: hits to the head are dangerous and more needs to be done to protect our athletes.
Who’s At Risk for Concussions in Youth Sports?
Concussions are an issue at all levels in many sports. One factor found in a videotape analysis of bantam youth hockey players is that on-ice skating characteristics helped explain why certain players sustain concussions. These players tended to skate with their head down and watching the puck, positioning themselves in the “danger zone,” which is between 8 and 16 feet from the boards; they didn’t optimally position their body to receive a body check.
Thus, when checked, these players were more often flung into the boards; and too often collisions occurred when their head was down. Many coaches are working in practice to reduce this style of play; equipment manufacturers are finding ways to increase protection and rinks are installing safety features in the ice. But this type of injury happens to even the best and most experienced players.
What Can You Do About Concussions in Youth Sports?
Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of concussions, and be sure your coaching staff has received the proper training to recognize them. They must also have protocols in place if an injury of this type occurs.
The Signs/Symptoms of a Concussion As Observed By Coaching Staff
- Loses consciousness (even briefly)
- Appears dazed or stunned, or moves unsteadily
- Is confused about assignment or position
- Forgets instructions
- Is unsure of game, score, opponent
- Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
- Cannot recall events
- Answers questions slowly
The Signs/Symptoms of a Concussion As Reported By the Athlete
- Headache or pressure in the head
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
What to Do If There Are Signs of Concussion
- Remove the athlete from play
- Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by an appropriate healthcare professional. Do not try to judge the seriousness of the injury yourself.
- Inform the athlete’s parent or guardian about the known or possible concussion
- Allow the athlete to return to play only with permission from a healthcare professional
When Is It Safe to Return to Play?
All athletes who sustain concussions in youth sports, no matter how minor, should undergo an evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider before returning to play. In some instances, clearance from your primary-care doctor may not be enough. There are many factors that determine when an athlete is safe to return to play, just as there are very specific protocols that measure an athlete’s responses at different levels of rest and activity. In some cases, other therapy may be needed.
Not until they are completely free of all symptoms and remain symptom free during and after physical testing, is it safe for athletes affected by concussions in youth sports to return to play. If you are unsure, you are urged to consult with your healthcare provider. Talk to your coaches and trainers to make sure they are up to date on the latest protocols to keep our athletes safe.