Yesterday on The PediaBlog, we saw that the number of concussions occurring in youth soccer players has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. In a study published this summer in Pediatrics, researchers demonstrated just how common sports- and recreation-related concussions (SRRC) have become:
We estimate between 1.1 and 1.9 million SRRCs occur annually in US children ≤18 years old.
That’s a lot of brain trauma in the pediatric population of this country. The researchers found that the majority of concussed children are not seen in health care settings so that the actual number of concussions that occur might be underestimated. However, what may be more concerning is that there are a lot of sports- and recreation-related concussions that are not being treated at all. Another study published last month in Pediatrics suggests that not recognizing when a player has suffered a concussion could be a big problem for that kid-athlete:
Athletes who were not removed from play took longer to recover and demonstrated worse neurocognitive and symptom outcomes after a sport-related concussion. Removal from play status is a new predictor for protracted recovery and supports consensus guidelines.
Rachel Rabkin Peachman says researchers from UPMC’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program found that recovery after concussion took twice as long in players who kept playing after their head injury, in contrast to players who were removed from the field of play:
The finding, published in the journal Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to focus on one of the most difficult social challenges of treating concussions: a pervasive sports culture that encourages young athletes to keep playing through pain. Medical guidelines call for benching the athlete immediately after the head injury to prevent long-term complications and the potentially devastating consequences of a second hit.
“Kids are often reluctant to acknowledge a concussion,” said Dawon Dicks, a youth football coach with CoachUp in Andover, Mass. “The kid may want a scholarship and want to go to college, or it could be that ‘Dad or Coach wants me to play.’ That’s when they’re going to start to be a little dishonest in what they’re truly feeling.”
The study highlights a critical guideline when managing concussions in athletes, regardless of age, sex, or sport played — brain rest is crucial for recovery:
The findings may help doctors promote the message that taking immediate precautions after concussion will actually allow the athlete more opportunities to keep playing, not fewer. Resting immediately in the 24 to 48 hours following a concussion (and then slowly returning to normal activities under the supervision of a physician) reduces the possibility of further stress on the system and allows brain cells to heal faster so that athletes can get back to their sport more quickly. “It’s something that we consistently preach to coaches, parents and kids,” said R.J. Elbin, who led the study while at the University of Pittsburgh but who now is director of the Office for Sport Concussion Research at the University of Arkansas. “However, until now, there really has not been any data that supports this idea.”
Maybe now players, coaches, and parents will understand that removal from a game for a suspected concussion may protect not only the player’s brain, but also the overall minutes he or she gets to play in a given season.