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Five Ways to Protect Young Athletes from Concussions

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School is back in session, and the laundry hamper is back to tackling your child athlete’s sports practice outfit three times a week. The stains on your son’s football pads make it clear that conditioning is no walk in the park, but what kind of physical dangers does your child actually face on the field?

One risk that all sports parents should be aware of is the chance that their child could get a concussion. Of all high school sports, football presents boys with the highest risk (75% chance) of suffering from one, according to the Sports Concussion Institute. Younger players are especially susceptible to related long-term damage.

Fortunately, the key to preventing and responding to a concussion correctly begins with equipping yourself with the right information. You’ve come to the right place for five tips that you should know about concussions before your child subs in.

Don’t be Blindsided
A concussion describes temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head. Concussions are one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injury among people 15 to 25 years old, second only to motor vehicle crashes. You probably wouldn’t let your child go without a seatbelt, and it’s important to exercise similar precaution when your child laces up.

Go to the Doctor Ahead of Time
Despite the physical risks, joining a team can be a great experience for many students. If your child is going to play, it’s important to take proactive steps to protect him or her from the effects of a concussion. Before the sports season even begins, you can take your athlete to a sports doctor for baseline tests, which a doctor can use to assess a child’s balance, problem-solving and memory skills, and other brain functions. If your child does suffer from a concussion later on, these tests will help the doctor know how severe the injury is and when a full recovery has taken place.

Know What to Look For
You’re already squinting your eyes to identify the tiny number ‘8’ jersey from the bleachers, so keep close attention post-game to avoid letting a concussion get worse. If your child suffered a blow during the practice or game, he or she may walk away feeling fine. But if he starts showing signs of forgetfulness, or complains of nausea or dizziness, don’t be dismissive. Other signs include noise and light sensitivity, vomiting and blurred vision.

Have Your Action Plan Ready
Seventy-eight percent of concussions occur during the actual football game, so in the event that you’ll be there to respond, have your action plan ready. This should include removing the athlete from the game, and taking him to see a health professional for further evaluation as soon as possible. Most schools have concussion policies to ensure that your child does not return to the field too soon, so make sure to sign one before the sports season even begins.

See a Health Professional
A health professional can give your child personal advice about how to recover from a concussion, and let him or her know how long she should rest before suiting up again. The brain needs time to heal, and a medical expert can compare baseline tests, run neurological scans and perform physical exams to help a young athlete recover as quickly as possible.

Part of your action plan should involve seeking out the best professional advice and treatment for your young athlete. St. Joseph Health is proud to offer such a facility in Mission Viejo, where the completed Neuroscience and Spine Institute will offer comprehensive preventative and rehabilitative treatment for neural and spinal issues.

Dr. Ched Nwagwu, M.D., is a neurosurgeon at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Mission Hospital is part of the St. Joseph Health Alliance, which seeks to provide compassionate care, promote health improvement and create healthy communities.

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