This article was originally published in Sept. 2021
Now that school is back in session, it’s time for America’s favorite sport: football. Is your child gearing up to play this season? Make sure you have everything you need to keep them safe.
Mouthguards—check. Shoulder pads and cleats—check. But what about a helmet?
A helmet is the best way to protect your child from serious injury. With football season starting, make sure to brush up on your knowledge of concussions in case of an unexpected head injury.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects brain function caused by a blow to the head. The effects of a concussion are usually temporary. However, concussions can be frequent among those who play contact sports, including football.
Unlike other bodily injuries, concussions pose a seriously unique risk. Dr. Paul Southall, Chief Medical Officer at Fast Pace Health, says. This is because of the unique composition of your skull.
Generally, your body can swell outwards to compensate for the inflammation and healing when you get an injury.
“Let’s say you get injured on your arm, and it swells,” Dr. Southall explains, “the skin will sort of protect you, but your arm could swell quite a bit, and it’d not be a major issue.”
But because your brain is enclosed in the hard bone of your skull, the same swelling cannot occur. As a result, when you get a concussion, there is limited space in the skull to expand. Thus, this swelling can cause dangerous consequences in other parts of the body, such as brain death, lack of mobility, and lack of breathing.
“Concussions are things that need to be taken seriously. They’re not something that you can just say ‘don’t worry about it,'” Dr. Southall says.
Look for These Symptoms
Immediate concussion symptoms include headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and blurry vision. Someone may also experience unconsciousness, slurred speech, delayed response, dazed appearance and forgetfulness.
A concussed person may exhibit symptoms days after the injury. Later symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, personality changes, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep disturbances, depression, and sensory disorders. Other serious aftereffects include neurologic symptoms and experiencing confusion or amnesia surrounding the event.
Several risk factors increase one’s probability of getting concussed.
“If you’re older, you have a higher risk of problems with head injuries,” Dr. Southall explains. “If you take medicines that thin your blood, you have a higher risk of problems with head injuries.”
An MRI or cat scan will often determine if someone has contracted a concussion, especially if the individual has a history of heat-related injuries. However, it may not be required in all cases. Tests such as IMPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) and the Canadian CT Head Scan Score are essential tools providers use to assist in diagnosing a concussion in your child.
Healing After a Concussion
If an individual is concussed, they should refrain from physically strenuous activities until their symptoms are completely gone. This premature re-entry could potentially cause the injury to worsen.
“If you have a headache, it needs to be resolved. If you have dizziness, it needs to be resolved. If you’re nauseated, it needs to be resolved,” Southall says. “All that needs to be completely resolved before you even consider participating in any sporting event or anything that potentially would re-injure your head.”
The recovery process can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Dr. Southall says it is wise to gradually increase physical activity over time to ensure symptoms do not return.
“Once you’re sure that that person is completely symptom-free and they’re not symptomatic with whatever activity that is, then that’s the time that they would be okay to restart participation”
As a former athlete, Dr. Southall says continuing to play sports after exhibiting signs of a concussion can be detrimental to one’s overall health. “I’m old enough to have played football and had injuries where I had a headache after an injury, and I’m not sure I did anything special.”
By increasing this knowledge and awareness, Dr. Southall wants young athletes to take the necessary precautions to prevent and treat concussions. He especially wants parents to understand these concepts to determine whether their children will participate in sports.
“I think using the proper equipment, recognizing the symptoms, and understanding that you know the timing of the return is important,” he says. “Those are the three important points things that I would advise you to remember.”
Preparing for the Season
Parents are highly encouraged to have their children undergo a sports physical before the start of their season. Fast Pace Health offers sports physicals with no appointment for $25.
Athletes under 18 must have their examination form filled out and signed by a parent or guardian before the exam.
Physicals are valid for one year, depending on the sport. However, if a patient has had multiple concussions in a short time, they may need to be cleared by a neurologist to participate in their sport.
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