One of the most common questions concussion experts are currently being asked by parents is: “Should I keep my kids in sports?”
Concussion, a public health issue, has gained a great deal of media attention recently, particularly with the release of the movie “Concussion.” This has led to confusion about concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and whether it’s safe to leave kids in contact sports or what to do if a child has already suffered a concussion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports are a common cause of concussion. Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, in which the soft tissue of the brain is damaged, causing the brain to temporarily function abnormally. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which was the focus of “Concussion,” is a progressive, degenerative disease suffered by those who have had a significant number of concussions or brain injuries.
CTE is a disorder that has only been identified upon autopsy of a small number of people who underwent a tremendous amount of head impact during a time when protective equipment was not well developed. These individuals had a lifetime of injuries and experiences, as well as a variety of lifestyle risk factors and co-morbid conditions. In addition, they played sports in a time when impact and the presence of a head injury were often ignored.
Evidence suggests that CTE is most likely to occur only after repeated head trauma, so the risk for CTE is likely limited to some professional athletes and military personnel, and not the average student athlete or weekend warrior. The theory that youth sports can lead to CTE is far from proven. The good that comes from athletics far outweighs the risk of a possible concussion or the much less likely CTE.
While sports are among the most common causes of concussions, researchers and physicians at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System are taking steps in the field and the clinic to keep children and young adults playing organized sports. Youth sports have a number of benefits, including physical fitness, discipline, time management lessons and teamwork skills that have a positive impact long after the season ends.
Organized sports also represent a very constructive place where young people of all backgrounds can spend their time in a supportive team environment. In fact, the consequences of not having sports programs are far more significant than the injuries seen in these sports.
UHealth researchers are looking at new techniques to diagnose and treat concussion more promptly and effectively. This clinical research includes a pair of goggles that can potentially diagnose concussions from the sidelines of a game and getting athletic trainers on site for every Miami-Dade County public high school athletic function. This work is expected to reduce short-term and long-term consequences of head injury in South Florida’s young athletes.
In addition, UHealth boasts a talented, multi-disciplinary concussion clinic that features state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatment for all young people with concussions. It is considered one of the leading sites in the United States for concussion research and treatment.
Keeping your child on the field does not mean you should ignore concussions. Instead, there are things you can do to help protect your child:
▪ Make sure the coach or someone on his or her staff has knowledge and experience about concussions in contact sports.
▪ Educate yourself and your child about the signs and symptoms of head injury.
▪ If your child suffers a head injury or shows signs of a head injury – even after a minor head impact – seek medical care from a professional who has experience with concussion/mild traumatic brain injury.
▪ Work with concussion experts, your child and the coach to determine when your child should return to play.
Concern is appropriate, but don’t let fear keep your child on the sidelines. The value and enjoyment of sports are an important part of growing up. By following the steps above and seeking prompt attention if an injury does occur, the risk of your child suffering a long-term consequence from head injury will likely be minimal. If your child does suffer a concussion, experts from UHealth’s concussion program are ready to treat your child and get him or her back in the game.
Michael Hoffer, M.D., is a concussion expert and otolaryngologist at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, which is nationally and internationally acclaimed for education, research, patient care and biomedical innovation. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com.