Dr. Jason Read is a concussion expert with a sports medicine background.He works in the Nemours Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Department.
Here he discusses the relevance of education surrounding concussions in our child and teen athletes and what parents should be doing on – and more importantly OFF THE FIELD!
Why don’t teens report concussions?
“I see this fairly often and a recent example comes from a patient of mine that is a senior in high school. He’s a football player that suffered a concussion and didn’t initially say anything. When he eventually came to his trainer it was after he’d been hit a fourth time while already experiencing headaches from the initial injury. He was aware of the headaches meant something could be wrong but didn’t want to go to his trainer because he knows once he told her she’d take him off the field to recover. Eventually, the headaches became severe and he experienced blurred vision. It’s a difficult situation because in cases like these the fact the patient is more aware of what the injury looks like, they also realize the “consequences” (as the teenage brain perceives it) of going to their coaches and trainer means they miss playing time. However, concussion management is synonymous with education. We need not only the health advocates — parents, coaches, and trainers — to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion but also the players. If they DON’T know the symptoms, this will lead them to play through the injury regardless, leading to increased severity of the symptoms and repeated concussions. Technically there is no limit to how many concussions you can suffer at one time. Repeated injury and no recovery time can lead to extreme issues like brain swelling and ultimately death.
It’s important for not only athletic staff, parents and athletes to know what the symptoms are. This is one of those injuries that you ‘can’t see,’ so red flag identification is key. Some good resources for brushing up on your concussion FAQs are cdc.gov and Nemours kidshealth.org.”
How serious of a problem is this?
“Overall protocol in area counties (St. Johns, Duval and Clay) across the applicable athletic staff is improving. Parents and coaching staff are more aware of the severity of a concussion and are becoming more knowledgeable regarding symptoms and management. Does the culture our parents’ generation perpetuated where you ‘keep going no matter what, and power through’ still exist? Sure. But in general medical providers are doing a better job to educate parents/athletic staff/principals and we are seeing that safe practice of taking kids off the field happening as far down as the middle school and peewee levels.”
How do you spot a concussion, anyway?
“There are multiple symptoms that correlate to a concussion and every injury can present differently. Top reported and easiest to recognize symptoms are headache, blurry vision dizziness. Other symptoms include light and sound sensitivity. Patients that have suffered a concussion may also experience nausea and vomiting. One common misconception is that you have to ‘pass out’ in order to obtain a concussion. That is incorrect. Do some people pass out? Yes. You may also see someone cry or become angry. Coaches and trainers on the sidelines need to pull children off the field immediately if symptoms are present in an athlete and they suspect a concussion. Parents if you’re in the stands and you see your kid staggering, you notice any of those other red flags, you have every right to address someone in the coaching staff and ask to get your athlete pulled immediately.”
My kid might have a concussion and doesn’t want to report it because he thinks he’ll miss playing time. How can I encourage him to see a doctor?
“I get it. To the teenage brain, the idea of missing time on the field is THE END OF THE WORLD! Teenagers may not communicate as well and may be stubborn. That being the case a parent or guardian who knows them well can relate better to a patient/athlete. If you notice concussion symptoms there needs to be honesty. Tell your athlete quite simply “If you don’t rest your brain and let it recover, the symptoms can get worse. If the symptoms get worse, you won’t be able to function in school OR on the field. Being healthy and doing well in school means playing time! Your brain matters! If you don’t report concussion symptoms and the injury gets worse you’ll be out of sports even longer. The faster you report symptoms the faster you can get help and recover. Some of your upper-level athletes also may feel like they’re letting the team down. Remind them of the school to sports connection and push the “return to learn” vs. the return to play.”
I hear parents and coaches say we should “establish a culture of safety.” Is that a thing? What does that mean?
“That is actually something that can be worked on. The old school “No pain, no gain! Go, go, go! Don’t stop!” mentality that can be worked on. Parents need to be educated on the severity and symptoms regarding concussions and injuries in young athletes. You are advocates for your players’ health. Players need to come off the field if there is a suspected concussion – point-blank – and coaches need to be OK with that. It needs to go both ways. We should be striving for a community that is aware of the severity of concussions and together with the ‘chain of command’ of a coaching staff, parents, teachers etc. are looking out for the health and well-being of our young athletes.”