With back-to-school comes back to the field and hundreds of thousands of children donning jerseys, helmets and cleats in an effort to emulate their sports heroes. Many of these kids will have fun and will excel, giving their parents and themselves the bragging rights they dream of.
What many parents and children do not understand are the dangers associated with sports related head injuries. Wah wah... I know I sound like Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live, but this is important information for everyone involved in sports.
According to an article published in the June 2009 issue of Neurosurgery Today, although sports injuries contribute to fatalities infrequently, the leading cause of death from sports-related injuries is traumatic brain injury. Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents. In fact, the top 10 head injury categories among children ages 14 and younger include:
- Skateboards/Scooters (Powered)
- Baseball and Softball
- Water Sports
- Powered Recreational Vehicles
- Winter Sports
Most disturbing about these statistics is that head injury associated with these athletic activities is not new but only recently has there been an escalation of articles in the news and on TV about concussions, helmet safety, and undetected brain trauma. It is fascinating that the commissioners of these sports have not been taking a stronger stance on the effect that these injuries can have on athletes. Even more disturbing is that school boards and other school administration officials may not be aware of the severe and undetected dangers associated with head trauma.
As onlookers we hoot and holler at football games while our favorite sports teams ram into one another on the field. The players are encouraged to hit hard, the harder, the better. It is still unconfirmed what damage the brain is subjected to and even more worrisome is the damage that developing brains experience during the many years of practice sessions and games while the young athletes are still in school.
Now... I am not advocating that we should end contact sports, but what I am saying is that parents, school administration officials and those responsible for promoting and possibly profiting from contact sports or other sports with potential of brain injury would take a stand on the prevention of serious injuries, including the education of the safest rules of engagement, proper techniques, proper equipment and its use. In the meantime, parents and athletes should be aware of the early and sometimes subtle signs of brain injury. Any change in behavior or mental status should be viewed as suspicious following possible trauma. A comment from the athlete that "I feel funny" is also worthy of attention. Here are a few common symptoms that arise when someone is suffering from a head injury. If any of these occur, see a doctor immediately.
- Pain: Constant or recurring headache
- Motor Dysfunction: Inability to control or coordinate motor functions, or disturbance with balance
- Sensory: Changes in ability to hear, taste or see; dizziness; hypersensitivity to light or sound
- Cognitive: Shortened attention span; easily distracted; over stimulated by environment; difficulty staying focused on a task, following directions or understanding information; feeling of disorientation and confusion and other neuropsychological deficiencies.
- Speech: Difficulty finding the "right" word; difficulty expressing words or thoughts; dysarthric speech.
Again, if any of the above symptoms is present, please see a doctor immediately.