Researchers take on youth sports and concussions
Institute of Medicine will track child athletes until adulthood
Sunday, January 13, 2013
In many countries around the world, playing in youth sports is a big part of growing up. Whether teams are sponsored by schools or an organized sports league, many parents want their children to experience what sports can provide, like the camaraderie of being on a team, learning how to win and lose gracefully and getting a good amount of exercise.
But in recent years, concussions have been on the minds of parents and physicians alike, due to several stories about children and adults suffering head injuries and concussions from falling or being hit while playing.
Although there has been some research conducted on the relationship between children, sports and concussions, and certain measures have been taken to ensure children are safer--like the redesigning of helmets--the U.S. government has yet to conduct a study that focuses on the long-term effects of concussions in children.
This very type of study will be conducted by The Institute of Medicine, an independent non-profit research organization. Researchers will track children who suffer concussions and other head injuries into adulthood, in an effort to see if there are lasting effects from injuries that might otherwise be shrugged off. The study will also seek ways to prevent these kinds of injuries from happening in the first place.
Just last month, the state of Ohio took a first step towards keeping kids safer while playing sports, when Governor John Kasich signed a law that would require each child to get a note from a doctor if they wish to return to sports after being injured and showing signs of a concussion.
Although getting clearance from a physician after a head injury seems like common sense and many parents would probably take this measure on their own, the new law will help lower the chances of an injured child falling through the cracks and returning to sports prematurely.
In addition, coaches and referees of youth sport leagues will be required to undergo online training, which Ohio state representatives believe will better educate adults about concussions and how to prevent them.
Dr. Joseph Congeni, who is the medical director of the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, said that injuries to the brain are unique compared to other sports injuries, for the mere fact the extent of damage isn’t always known right away.
“Brain injuries or concussions that occur in sports are known as ‘the invisible injury’ or the ‘silent epidemic,' because they are not always obvious like other sports injuries,” he wrote in an email to a local news publication.
“For that reason, the fact that many medical disciplines around Ohio such as physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors have come together to help craft and support this bill is important,” he wrote.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parents should look for key signs if they suspect their child may have a sports related concussion.
First, the CDC emphasizes that most people who get a concussion don’t lose consciousness, so any blow or bump to the head should be taken seriously and investigated for possible damage, even if the person never loses consciousness. The CDC also says that people can get concussions from a quick body movement that forces their head to turn rapidly.
Also, if a child isn’t sure of the score of the game, who they're playing or what game they're involved in, there’s a very high chance they have a concussion, says the CDC.
The government agencies also say feeling pressure in the head or becoming sensitive to light or noise are signs of a concussion, and if one is experiencing nausea, vomiting or vision problems, it could be a sign of brain damage and should be evaluated immediately.
In addition, if one receives a blow to the head during a sporting activity, they should immediately stop playing until they can be seen by a doctor. The CDC also says that some people with concussions don’t show symptoms at all, so they should be monitored for weeks after a head injury, since concussions can stretch out for long periods of time.
Robert Graham who is leading the study at the Institute of Medicine, says he expects a huge reaction to the results once researchers hand in their initial findings at the end of 2013.
“You start talking about, ‘Is it safe for Sally to be playing soccer?' You get lots of public interest,” he said.