Head's Up on Upcoming Sports Season

High school athletes will soon return to action so now is an ideal time to discuss a common concern: concussions. Many parents and athletes worry about head injuries. And they are right to be concerned: According to the CDC, an estimated 173,285 patients from birth to age 19 are treated annually in U.S. emergency departments for concussions or other brain trauma. While not all of those head injuries are related to sports, the majority are. The good news, however, is that more people are paying attention to concussions – they know how to spot them and understand just how serious they are.

Concussions are a brain injury and can lead to long-term problems, such as brain swelling, personality changes, or permanent brain damage. That being said, recovery time is essential. If an athlete gets a concussion, he should only return to practice and games after getting approval from a medical professional. If an athlete goes back too quickly, he is at risk for additional – and a more serious -- injury. If your child indeed has a concussion, his medical provider will outline a plan to help them prepare to return to play. It will may seem slow-going, but it’s necessary.

All WIAA coaches and many recreation league coaches are trained to spot the signs of concussion. It’s good for parents to know these signs too since they don’t always immediately show up. Common signs to watch for in athletes include:

  • Appearing dazed and confused.
  • Moving slowly and clumsily.
  • Having trouble remember the opponent or the score.
  • Showing personality changes (for example being more irritated).
  • Loss of consciousness.

Players who fall or are hit in the head may report headaches, pressure in the head, nausea, confusion, and just “not feeling right.”

While football is synonymous with concussions, it’s not the only sport where head injuries can occur. Hockey, soccer, basketball and volleyball can cause a concussion. If a coach suspects an athlete has a concussion, she should be immediately pulled from play. A visit to a medical professional is then in order to determine if a concussion did indeed happen; he or she can run some simple tests. As a parent if you suspect your child has a concussion – maybe she fell from a swing or ran into something (or someone) hard, please also bring them in to have them checked out. It’s better to be safe, than sorry later on.

ImPACT testing is another tool to check to see if an athlete has a concussion. Many schools require their athletes to go through ImPACT testing, a computerized concussion evaluation system. If your school doesn’t, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care also offers it to athletes. Before the season begins, they take a computer test to set a baseline and can then compare results of a test taken after an injury happens.

Our children’s brains are important and we need to be on the lookout for potential injuries so make sure you’re familiar with the signs of concussion and be informed about your coach’s or league’s policies about concussions. Your child’s future depends on it.

Don’t forget: If your son or daughter is playing a high school sport this year, be sure to bring them in as soon as possible for their sports physical, which are required by the WIAA. These appointments fill up fast so don’t wait until the last minute.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.