Safety Report: Young Athletes and Sports Concussions
Taking a hard hit to the head is causing concussions in more young athletes. Virginia schools are preparing parents and young athletes to deal with the impacts of an increasing number of sports concussions caused by a hard hit to the head in competitive play.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered a 62 percent increase in sports-related traumatic brain injury over a decade for athletes under the age of 19. Because of that increase, Virginia law now requires parents and athletes to take part in concussion education in public schools. Additionally, a bill is making its way through Richmond to require youth sports leagues to prepare policies and train parents and athletes in identifying concussions.
Shari Benson, the head trainer at Saint Anne's Belfield, has diagnosed symptoms of traumatic brain injury in more than 30 athletes this school year. The mild traumatic brain injury shows itself most commonly with headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light and noise. Confusion can follow.
Benson said, "Everyone has had an array of symptoms that have lasted four to five days, up to three months."
A common misconception is that most athletes are knocked out by a concussion. But, according to the University of Virginia Brain Injury and Sports Concussion Institute, most athletes never go unconscious upon incurring concussions.
That's why Benson does a sideline assessment of any player who takes a hit to the head. She tests balance, concentration and word recall to tally up a score and compare it to the same test done before the start of the sports season. She pulls players from sports and class, and prepares a concussion management plan for recovery.
Benson said, "If they have any symptom - whether their score is lower or not - we treat it like a concussion and we sit them out."
Dr. Donna Broshek with the University of Virginia Brain Injury and Sports Concussion Institute debunks the idea that young athletes should pick themselves up and get back in the game.
Broshek said, "Sometimes there are people who have very devastating injuries because they're exposed to too many forces when the brain is in a vulnerable state."
Research shows college-aged athletes require five to 10 days to recover from a simple concussion, and younger players can take up to 30 days. Broshek's studies find female athletes need longer to recover and may show more symptoms.
"We need an individual concussion management for every single athlete, because every athlete is different," Broshek said.
Long-term concussion effects are still a mystery. That's why Broshek encourages young athletes to ease back into activity.
Broshek said, "Many, many people have a couple of concussions - one or two playing sports. They're managed carefully and they have no long-term effects. So, the key is early identification and proper management."
That's the difference this time for Rebecca Dameron. Her daughter Corbin suffered a concussion during a STAB volleyball game in October.
Corbin said, "I ran into another girl on my team and my head hit her elbow."
It was the 10th-grader's third sports concussion.
Dameron said, "Probably we didn't recognize it well the first two times. So, in retrospect, the symptoms were similar, but I didn't know how to interpret them."
Benson saw the symptoms, scored Corbin with the sideline concussion assessment tool and prepared a management plan, which meant a break from sports and scaled-back school work. The detailed concussion management plan is guiding Corbin's parents through a recovery that's stretching more than four months.
UVA is planning a study to measure the forces younger athletes are exposed to in sports. Virginia Tech researchers are beginning to test concussion impacts on helmets in hockey, lacrosse, baseball, and softball.