Concussions in Young Athletes

young athletes and concussions

Concussions in young athletes can occur with any sport. Whether its high impact sports like football, soccer, and basketball, or lower impact sports such as track and field, tennis, and cross-country. Risks exist with any physical activity.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way a brain functions. It can have a negative impact on its victim for years to come. Although a blow to the head is a common cause of concussions, they can also occur with violent shaking of a person’s head and upper body. This rapid movement makes the brain shift back and forth inside the skull. The result is a twisting of delicate brain tissue.

Concussion damage can range from mild to severe. It is important to note that 90% of all concussions occur without a loss of consciousness. All concussions are potentially serious and can result in complications. These include prolonged brain damage or, in the worst cases, death if not recognized and managed properly.

What do I do if I suspect my child has suffered a concussion?

Signs and symptoms can appear immediately or take a few hours or days to show up. In other words, concussions and their symptoms are unpredictable. This means that young athletes, parents, and coaches need to be ready to spot the symptoms. If an athlete reports any symptoms of a concussion, or you notice the symptoms and signs, immediately remove the athlete from activity and have them evaluated by a medical professional. Next, alert the child’s parent, coach, athletic trainer, and school administrator to initiate the concussion management protocol. If concussion is suspected, the athlete may not return to activity regardless of how mild the symptoms, or how quickly they subside, without written medical clearance from an appropriate health care professional.

What can happen if my child keeps playing a sport with a concussion or returns too soon?

Continuing to play with a concussion leaves the young athlete vulnerable to sustaining a second concussion. If a second concussion occurs before the first one has healed, there is an increased risk of significant brain damage. In the best case, this can lead to much slower recovery. However, it also comes with the risk of severe brain swelling (Second Impact Syndrome) leading to devastating and even fatal consequences.

What are the steps to recovery for concussions in young athletes?

The first step in gaining full concussion recovery is mental rest. This is essential for the brain to heal. Activities requiring concentration and attention, including homework, use of electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, video games, and texting, as well as exposure to loud noises and bright lights, may worsen symptoms and delay recovery. Students may need their academic workload modified while they are recovering from their concussion. This may include staying home from school for a few days, followed by a lightened school schedule, and then gradual returning to a normal schedule. Gradual return to physical activity should only take place once the student is back in the classroom full-time, is symptom free, and cleared by a health care provider.

When should a young athlete return to practice or competition after a concussion?

An athlete must first complete a graduated return-to-play physical activity progression under the supervision of a medical professional, as outlined in Max’s Law (OAR 581-022-0421). This law requires Oregon school districts to implement concussion management guidelines for all student athletes.

concussions in young athletesNext, the athlete must have written clearance (per Oregon State Law HB 348) from a health care professional, releasing them to full practice and competition. Until these steps take place, the student is not cleared for practice or competition.

What’s most important is the health of our young athletes. Moreover, while these protocols, symptom assessments, and recommendations for concussion awareness and management may seem cumbersome, they are necessary in order to keep our athletes safe and sound on the field, at home, and for the long term.


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