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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Coaches and parents can play an active role in keeping their children injury-free.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3.8 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the United States each year.  Emergency rooms treat approximately 170,000 sports and recreation related traumatic brain injuries among children each year. This number is on the rise, increasing 60 percent over the last decade.

The extent of sports-related injuries is highlighted by East Brunswick orthopedic surgeon David Kirschenbaum, “Kris Dielman, the pro bowl offensive lineman, just retired because of multiple concussions.  Sidney Crosby, one of the best NHL hockey stars, was disabled nearly a year with concussion symptoms and after returning to play this fall experienced more symptoms.  Derek Boogaard of the NY Rangers earlier in the season died from multiple concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. “ 

Most traumatic brain injuries are concussions caused by a blow to the head by either the head hitting an object, a moving object striking the head, or by a sudden movement of the body causing the head to move violently.  Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of damage to the brain. Mild cases may result in a brief change in mental state or consciousness, while severe cases may result in extended periods of unconsciousness, coma or death. Although most people who sustain a traumatic brain injury fully recover, some have symptoms that persist for days or even weeks. In more serious cases, patients may have headaches, trouble concentrating and remembering things, or have some other symptoms for months after the initial injury.

Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion

 

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness or "seeing stars"

Unfortunately, because the symptoms of a concussion may not appear immediately after the injury, it can often go untreated.  This is especially true among child athletes.  Children and teens take longer to recover from concussions than adults because their brain is still developing.  Dr. Kirschenbaum elaborates, “In the past, we simply knew little about sports-related traumatic brain injuries, but now we understand the wide range of consequences including cognitive, emotional and in rare cases even death.  It's a problem related to all contact sports and is particularly damaging to the developing brain of young athletes.”  Recognition of brain injury is also an important step in preventing further damage.  If an athlete returns to play prior to fully recovering, an additional bump or blow can cause even more damage.

An emphasis on safety by both coaches and parents can help to prevent many of these injuries.  Ensuring that all athletes wear the proper protective equipment, such as helmets, coaches and parents can play an active role in keeping their children injury-free.

Another critical piece to minimizing the incidence and impact of sports-related traumatic brain injuries is to educate those who are on the front lines of youth sports-coaches and parents.  Says Dr. Kirschenbaum, “Anyone involved in youth sports must be educated in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of concussions so we can help avoid long term complications that can cripple children."  

The CDC recently created a program to help ensure the health and safety of young athletes.  They developed the Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports initiative to offer information about concussions to coaches, parents, and athletes involved in youth sports. The Heads Up initiative provides important information on preventing, recognizing, and responding to a concussion.

New Jersey is on the forefront of initiatives to decrease the incidence and severity of sports-related concussions.  In December 2010, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law that required all coaches, trainers and school physicians to take a concussion awareness program; the immediate removal of any athlete from a practice or game who was suspected of having a concussion; and that athletes are not allowed to return to practice or games until they have been evaluated by a health care professional.

For more information regarding the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury in youth sports, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/pdf/parents_Eng.pdf

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