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When In Doubt, Sit Them Out: Concussions In Young Athletes

July 4, 2014

A concussion is a type of brain injury that can have a serious effect on a young, developing brain. According to the CDC website, each year, the U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), including concussions, among children and adolescents. The majority of those with a sport-related concussion recover within a 7-10 day period, but children and adolescents require more time for the brain to heal.

Nearly a third of athletes have sustained blows to the head resulting in concussion-like symptoms, yet were never diagnosed or evaluated by a professional. Any athlete suspected of incurring a concussion should immediately stop playing and seek assessment by a healthcare provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions. There are many tools and evaluations available for identifying injury, but vigilant monitoring after the injury is essential. Critical symptoms of concussion include behavior changes, balance difficulties, and cognitive changes. Over the course of the first 24 hours, the most common symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, memory loss, and fatigue. Concussions can further be classified as simple or complex, which may help determine their duration of recovery before returning to their sport.

It is vitally important for parents and coaches to recognize when return to play is inappropriate. Current policies in place in a majority of states dictate preventative measures to protect athletes from receiving multiple concussions and permanent damage. The following three “action steps” are included in the majority of policies to prevent concussions:

  • Education of coaches, parents, and athletes is a critical component of ensuring athlete safety
  • If an athlete is believed to have a concussion, he or she should be removed from play immediately
  • Once diagnosed, the athlete should only return to play once cleared by a health care professional trained in concussion management

Heads Up!

The CDC and it’s “Heads Up” program provides an excellent resource for all youth and high school athletes, coaches, and parents. Through the CDC’s website there are available links for extensive educational materials on sport-related concussions.


“Heads Up Concussion Program” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Get a Heads up on Concussion in Sports Policies: Information for Parents, Coaches, and School & Sports Professionals ” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Harmon KG, Drezner J, Gammons M, Guskiewicz KM, et al. “American Medical Society for Sports Medicine position statement: concussion in sport. ” Clin J Sport Med, 2013; 23(1):1-18.

Iverson G. “Predicting slow recovery from sport-related concussion: the new simple complex distinction.” Clin J Sport Med , 2007; 17:31-7.

Leddy JJ, Sandhu H, Sodhi V, Baker JG, Willer B. “Rehabilitation of concussion and post-concussion syndrome.” Sports Health, 2012; 4(2):147-54.

Ma R, Miller CD, Hogan MV, Diduch BK, Carson EW, Miller MD.“ Sports-related concussion: assessment and management. ” J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2012; 94(17):1618-27.

McCroy P, Meeuwisse WH, Echemendia RJ, Iverson GL, Dvorák J, Kutcher JS. “ What is the lowest threshold to make a diagnosis of concussion? ” Br J Sports Med, 2013; 47(5):268-71.

Meehan WP 3rd, Mannix RC, O’brien MJ, Collins MW. “ The prevalence of undiagnosed concussions in athletes.” Clin J Sport Med, 2013; [Epub ahead of print]

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