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Loss Control Insights for Schools

Concussion Detection for Youth Athletes (updated August 2021)

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More than 170,000 children and teens are treated in an emergency department each year for sports- or recreational-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While common and usually not life-threatening, these injuries should not be taken lightly. They have the potential to cause serious long-term effects, especially if concussions go unrecognized or untreated.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?

Signs of a concussion usually appear soon after the injury but, in some cases, it may take a couple hours before symptoms present themselves. The chart below outlines common concussion symptoms to look for after a collision or impact occurs.

Common Concussion Symptoms

PhysicalCognitiveEmotionalSleep
Headache or pressure in headConfusionIrritabilityTrouble falling asleep
Nausea or vomitingFeeling mentally foggy or slowed downSadnessSleeping more than usual
Balance problems or dizzinessDifficulty remembering events before/after the incidentNervousnessSleeping less than usual
FatigueDifficulty focusing or trouble concentratingMore emotional than usual
Sensitivity to light or noise
Loss of consciousness
Slurred speech

What should you do if you suspect a concussion?

Follow these steps any time an athlete hits their head, no matter how trivial the injury may seem.

  1. Take the athlete out of the game. The sooner you get an athlete out of the game, the sooner they can get back to a healthy state. Check for signs and symptoms of a concussion. And when in doubt, sit them out.
  2. Have the athlete evaluated by a health care professional. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. Take note of the cause of the injury, if there was loss of consciousness and for how long, if there was memory loss or seizures, and if there are any known previous concussions. This information can be helpful to medical professionals.
  3. Inform the athlete’s guardians. Let the athlete’s guardian know that you suspect a possible concussion and provide them with a fact sheet containing information on symptoms and how long to monitor the athlete.
  4. Keep the athlete out of the game. Even if the athlete feels up to playing or is a key member of the team, it’s important that they are removed from play until a medical professional approves their return.

When can athletes return to play after a concussion?

When an athlete experiences a concussion, their brain needs time to heal. Youth athletes might develop complications or delay healing if they are reinjured before a concussion has healed. Only a medical professional can tell when it’s safe to return to play.

Once approved to return by a medical professional, it’s critical to ease the athlete back into things. They should stop playing immediately if any symptoms return. Outlined below are some best practices for returning players after a concussion (and clearance by a medical professional).

StageAimActivityGoal of each stage
Stage 1Symptom-limited activityDaily activities that do not provoke symptomsGradual reintroduction to work/school activities
Stage 2Light aerobic activityWalking or stationary bike at slow to medium paceIncrease heart rate
Stage 3Sport-specific exerciseRunning or skating drillsAdd movement
Stage 4Noncontact training drillsTraining drills; may start progressive resistive trainingExercise, coordination and increased thinking
Stage 5Full contact practiceNormal training activitiesReturn confidence and assess functional skills by coaching staff
Stage 6Return to sportNormal game playSafely return athlete to play

How can sport concussions be prevented?

All players should wear properly fitting, sport-appropriate headgear and safety equipment to help reduce the risk of a brain injury. Coaches should also ensure athletes learn the right skills to avoid dangerous techniques and play.

Most importantly, every athlete needs to know how crucial it is to let their coach, athletic trainer or guardian know if they have hit their head or have symptoms of a head injury. No matter how minor the impact may seem, head injuries should never go ignored.

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