Rest, rest and more rest
Gone are the days of the middle school football coach telling a player to “Shake it off and get back in the game.”
Proper first aid and treatment of concussions has received a lot of attention in recent years, mostly due to the alarming increase in long-term neurological problems—memory loss and behavior changes—suffered by professional athletes and soldiers.
Concerned pediatricians and public health officials are pushing schools, youth sports organizations and parents to be more aware of head injuries in young athletes.
Childrens’ brains are still developing, after all, and are especially vulnerable to lasting effects from a head injury (and by children I mean college kids, too).
Luckily, the best treatment for a concussion is pretty simple: Rest—physical and mental. That means:
- Stop playing sports or other vigorous activities
- Don’t use the computer or watch TV
- Don’t read
- Don’t play video games (including smartphone/tablet games)
- Stay home from work or school, or at least reduce hours
Symptoms can last hours, days or even months, depending on the severity of the injury.
Physicians recommend resting until symptoms have been gone for 24 hours. In the case of contact sports such as football, a student should really be evaluated by his or her physician before playing again.
Symptoms of concussion
A concussion is caused by the brain moving around inside the skull. Any blow to the head or sudden, violent movement can cause a concussion.
Get immediate medical attention for anyone who has been knocked unconscious for more than a few seconds, or if you suspect there could be a spinal injury, too. If in doubt, call 911 for guidance.
Common symptoms of mild concussion include:
- headache (treat with acetaminophen, Tylenol, rather than aspirin or ibuprofen, which can increase the risk of bleeding)
- ringing in the ears
- blurred or double vision
- nausea, vomiting
- confusion, feeling dazed, slow to respond
- memory loss—can’t remember the injury
Symptoms might not be immediately noticeable. As with any injured body part, evidence of swelling or bruising can take several hours to appear. Watch for:
- behavior changes
- sleeping problems
- continued memory problems
- sensitivity to light and sound
- fatigue and/or depression
Severe symptoms need prompt medical attention:
- repeated vomiting
- increasing headache
- any symptom that gets worse over time
“Protect your brain”
Prevention is key. As one pediatrician tells his teenage patients: “Protect your brain. You may need to use it later.” He offers the following advice:
- Provide good training so young athletes know how to play safely. Support coaches who teach student athletes well, and take potential brain injuries seriously.
- Make sure that athletes have good protective equipment, including helmets and mouth guards. These don’t prevent all (or even most) concussions, but using them consistently and correctly is still important.
- School systems should have mandatory, science-based concussion management systems, developed in accordance with national guidelines.
- Officials and referees need to call fouls, and discontinue play when it’s dangerous. Players who put themselves or others at risk should be sent off the field without hesitation.
- Coaches on the sidelines need to look for even subtle signs of concussion in their players, and pull them out of the game if there are any signs at all. When in doubt, players should sit out.
- Players themselves need to know that they should never tough it out — any “dinger” needs to be reported, even if that means they’ll be pulled from the game. Brains are far more important than scores.
Preventing concussions in kids is a public health concern, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has a comprehensive section devoted to it. Included are links to lots of education materials for parents, teachers and coaches.
Spring sports are underway and summer is just around the corner. Play safely!