As the fall season approaches, millions of student-athletes are preparing to take to the playing fields - and with that comes an increased risk of sports-related injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than seven million students participate in high school sports annually and millions more are active on the elementary and middle school levels as well as in recreation leagues. High school athletes alone account for an estimated two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations with the highest injury rate among football players, followed by wrestlers and soccer players. In addition, more than 3.5 million children ages 14 years and younger receive medical treatment for sports-related injuries.
"Sprains, muscle strains, bone or growth plate injuries, fractures, and overuse or repetitive motion injuries, as well as heat-related illnesses, are the more typical injuries among children," explained Neil N. Jasey, M.D., Director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "However, concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is increasingly one of the most common sports-related injuries. It is also one of the most difficult to diagnose - and one of the most serious because of the long-term cognitive and behavioral problems it can cause."
The CDC estimates that more than 300,000 children sustain a concussion while participating in sports-related activities each year, with similar numbers occurring during practice as in games. "It's critically important that players, coaches and parents are aware of the symptoms, know when to seek medical attention and understand the need for appropriate return-to-play strategies," said Dr. Jasey. "It's also essential for players to undergo baseline cognitive testing as part of a pre-season physical."
Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, one of only five federally designated Model Systems for the treatment and research of both traumatic brain (http://kessler-rehab.com/programs/brain-injury-rehab) and spinal cord injuries (http://kessler-rehab.com/programs/spinal-cord-injury-rehab/Default.aspx) in the nation, offers the following sports guidelines for athletes, parents, and coaches:
An athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion (mTBI) should be removed from the game immediately and examined by a trained professional. Coaches, trainers, parents and players should be on the lookout for symptoms including dizziness, confusion, loss of balance, headache, nausea and/or vomiting and extreme fatigue. Other symptoms that may develop over time include irritability, difficulty with memory or concentration, impaired judgment, behavioral issues, personality changes and even depression, as well as changes in schoolwork and academic performance.
Dr. Jasey also suggests the following concussion-specific strategies:
"Most young athletes recover from sports-related injuries, including concussion, providing they are recognized early and treated carefully," added Dr. Jasey. "Immediate medical attention and appropriate treatment are necessary in order to avoid complications. While coaches, trainers, family members and players need to be aware of the risks and symptoms, athletes also need to be honest about any problems they are experiencing. Too often we see players disregard their symptoms, tough it out and return to play too soon in an attempt to keep their competitive edge, which can result in serious complications and lasting problems."
DID YOU KNOW? (Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC); Safe Kids USA)