As a parent of a youth athlete there are many moments of pride, excitement and celebration when cheering your child along in their sport. However, there is also fear. Fear that they will be let down, fear that they might not make the team, and most of all, fear that they could get injured. With the recent attention paid to concussions and how they are often under reported and “swept under the rug” by athletes, and sometimes even coaches, it is important that parents understand concussions, including their signs, symptoms and proper treatment.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function and causes temporary cognitive and physical problems. Concussions need medical evaluation. If concussions are not properly treated, complications can result, including permanent damage.
Concussions usually happen with an impact to the head or body – a blow, bump or jolt. Because of a sudden change in direction or speed, the brain continues to move while the rest of the head does not. The result is a stretching of neurons and other microscopic damage to the brain. “Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions are under reported, under diagnosed and often under treated,” says William Haug Jr., MD, family medicine physician with an emphasis in sports medicine at Altru Advanced Orthopedics. “Additionally, the effects can be cumulative. Once you sustain one concussion, it’s easy to sustain another. If we don’t care for the concussion appropriately the first time, it can cause lifelong damage to the brain.”
To protect the vulnerable brains of young athletes, Altru partners with local high and middle schools to provide Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing or ImPACT. This nationally distributed software tests concussion symptoms.
“All student athletes are given a baseline test on ImPact,” Dr. Haug says. “After a head injury, we can use this baseline as a point of comparison to help us in deciding when an athlete should return to school and play, rather than just relying on subjective opinions.”
Concussions are difficult injuries for many reasons. Concussion is, to all intents and purposes, an invisible injury. Athletes have no obvious signs of being injured when recovering from a concussion, unlike a broken leg or a dislocated shoulder. To make matters worse, many athletes are trained from a young age to play through injury, never show weakness, and sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. This mentality among youth athletes means that parents play a major role in ensuring any potential concussion is treated promptly and properly.
So, what should you look for? Symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe and can disrupt the way the brain normally works. This can affect a person’s ability to function in social, work or school situations. Despite the improvements that have been made to protective gear worn while playing sports, the reality is that concussions can and do happen. Signs to watch for if you are the parent or guardian of an athlete include:
Before returning to play, be sure the athlete is cleared by a medical professional. Returning to activity too soon can make one vulnerable to sustaining subsequent concussions and can lengthen recovery times. At Altru Advanced Orthopedics, our providers have extensive training and experience in managing sports related concussions and can help to ensure that your child only returns to play when they are ready.
William Haug Jr., MD, grew up in the Red River Valley and is a family medicine physician, specializing in sports medicine at Altru Advanced Orthopedics. He is an active supporter of Special Olympics, ARC Upper Valley, and the BUDS (Better Understanding of Down Syndrome) program. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children and many outdoor activities.