There is some clear, but slow, progress in the handling of concussions in televised sports. The NFL recently announced it plans to spend another $100 million on concussion research and better helmet design; concussion protocols in everything from hockey to baseball continue to become more strict; and this summer the NCAA recommended that Division 1 teams cut down their practices with live contact. But what about the kids? Responding to concussions in the little leagues is up to the parents and coaches. If you encourage your child to play, you should be there for them. Here’s what to do if you see your kid get a concussion.
Take Them Out of the Game
First, says Mark Halstead, a pediatrician specializing in sports medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, kids who’ve gotten a concussion from sports need to stop playing. Research published in the journal Pediatrics showed that kids who stayed in the game after getting a concussion took about twice as long to recover as kids who left the field — 44 versus 22 days, on average. This is not a time to shake it off. “Athletes may say, ‘I feel fine,’ " Halstead says, “but fine doesn't mean normal.”
Watch for Symptoms
A concussion is “an easy injury to hide,” Halstead says. Kids may not recognize what they’re feeling as related to their concussion, so it’s important to ask them about symptoms specifically. Usually within the first several hours or the day after the bump, they may have a headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, difficulty concentrating, light or noise sensitivity, and only rarely amnesia or loss of consciousness. If a kid's symptoms keep getting worse, or they’re throwing up repeatedly, or an arm or leg feels numb and they can’t move it, they need medical evaluation immediately.
Make Them Take it Easy
We’re not talking complete bed rest, but kids need to take a break from physical activity while their brain heals and their symptoms fade. They may need some adjustments in school, but they don’t need to stay home. Fifty percent of kids are back to their normal selves within a week, Halstead says, and 85 to 90 percent are better within three weeks.
Wait Until They’re Cleared
Just like NFL players who’ve had concussions, kids need to be evaluated by a health care professional before they start playing sports again. After they’re back to normal in daily life, they can gradually increase their physical activity, and watch to make sure their symptoms don’t return. Patience is key. “You don’t want to cause a premature return to sports, just to return to play,” Halstead says. “Their brain health is much more important than that.”