Awareness about the dangers of concussions is at an all-time high. In response, athletic organizations — from Pop Warner football (a nonprofit program for kids 5 to 16) to USA Hockey — have safe-play protocols in place. But misconceptions about injury — prevention, management and return to play — are still all too common.
"It's great that parents, coaches and athletes are focused on the potential for concussions, but they also need to be aware of the complexities involved in evaluating, diagnosing and managing concussion," says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
The best way to get the knowledge you need? Learn how to separate fact from fiction.
Separating Concussion Fact From Fiction
Here’s the truth behind five common concussion myths:
Myth #1: Concussions are only caused by blows to the head.
Concussions happen in response to force. While they often result from a blow to the head, they can also occur after a hit to the neck, shoulders or anywhere else on the body. To cause brain injury, the force of the impact only needs to cause the head to move rapidly back and forth (think whiplash from a car crash or a spill down the stairs).
Myth #2: Concussions always involve a loss of consciousness.
A very small percentage of all concussions, 10 percent or less, result in a loss of consciousness. For the remaining injuries, parents, coaches and medical providers should watch for additional symptoms such as:
· Balance problems
· Slurred speech
· Physical complaints including headache, nausea and vomiting.
Myth #3: You should keep a person awake overnight after a concussion has occurred.
It's important to observe and interact with a recently concussed person for the first few hours to recognize the potential signs of a more serious injury. However, if they are interacting normally after four hours, it’s okay to let them sleep. If you have any doubts or questions, always err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.
Myth #4: After a concussion, kids should avoid digital media until they feel better.
Unless digital activities or screen time significantly worsen symptoms, there's no reason to avoid them. "You shouldn't force people who have suffered a concussion to rest too much — or deprive them of sensory input — if they are comfortable engaging in activity," Dr. Kutcher says. What’s more, taking away activities that bring a person joy or keep them socially connected could end up prolonging their recovery by creating additional symptoms.
Myth #5: All physical activity should be avoided after a concussion.
It’s important to rest for the first two to three days after a concussion. However, you need to be careful not to rest too much or avoid all activity for too long.
Engaging in physical, mental and social activities can be beneficial. But knowing how much to do and when to take it easy can be difficult. If you have any questions, consult a sports neurologist for specific recommendations.
Ground Rules for Concussion Prevention and Management
When it comes to preventing concussion, common sense offers the greatest impact, Dr. Kutcher notes. He recommends starting with these four tenets:
- Whenever possible, limit the amount of contact in practices and games.
- Wear proper fitting and certified helmets or other head protection whenever appropriate.
- Spread contact drills out over time as much as possible.
- Practice good technique and play by the rules.
Athletes — especially those who play contact sports — should undergo an annual neurological evaluation that includes a comprehensive, focused neurological history and examination. This information provides a critical point of reference for medical professionals.
Knowing the truth about concussions — including what to watch for and what to do if one occurs — is really the best game plan.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist at the Henry Ford Concussion and Sports Neurology Clinic and the global director of the Kutcher Clinic.
Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.
Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.
Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.
"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."
Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.
Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.
How To Prevent Sports Injuries
Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.
1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.
2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.
3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.
4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.
Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.
"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."
To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.
Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.