October 13, 2022
Using your head to help your child recover from and avoid concussions
Sports-related concussions have gotten more press in recent years. Terra Blatnik, MD, Washington University Orthopedics sports medicine doctor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, offers some tips on what to do if your child suffers a concussion while playing.
Parents, coaches and athletes know that playing football can put high schoolers at risk for serious injury from concussions. But other school sports, including soccer, lacrosse, basketball and cheerleading pose concussion risks as well.
Luckily, there are simple steps to take that can help young athletes recover from, and more importantly, prevent dangerous concussions, shares Dr. Blatnik, Washington University Orthopedics sports medicine doctor.
"Concussions are brain injuries that result when a blow to the head or the body jolts the brain into the inside of the skull hard and fast enough to disrupt normal brain function. Brain cells are stretched or injured, throwing brain chemicals out of whack," Dr. Blatnik explains.
Symptoms and when to see a doctor
Concussions can’t be seen on CT scans or X-rays, but a variety of symptoms can be a clue that an athlete has sustained an injury, says Dr. Blatnik. Those symptoms include:
- nausea and vomiting
- difficulty concentrating in school
- sluggishness or grogginess
- blurry vision
- difficulty sleeping
Any child with these symptoms after a hit or fall should never go back to play the same day, Dr. Blatnik says. “When in doubt — hold them out,” she says.
Symptoms may show up or worsen over the next several days before getting better. Call your doctor if the symptoms don’t improve or get worse after a few days.
Symptoms, including loss of consciousness, slurred speech, a worsening headache or unequal pupil size can be signs of a more serious injury and should be treated by a doctor or at an emergency room immediately.
Most concussions are relatively mild, however, with symptoms clearing up within a week.
“But everybody’s brain is a little different,” says Dr. Blatnik. “Some kids will take a week to get better. Some take much longer.”
Getting plenty of rest to let the brain heal is the most important thing a child can do to recover from a concussion. Limiting screen time, bright lights and loud noises also can help recovery. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve headache pain.
Young athletes should stay on the sidelines until all their symptoms have cleared up, Dr. Blatnik says.
“Kids shouldn’t go back to sports and other activities until they are totally asymptomatic,” she says. “No more headaches. No more dizziness. And they should be feeling like their normal selves again.”
Dr. Blatnik encourages parents to monitor their child’s symptoms and ask their child to be honest about what symptoms they’re experiencing.
Children should ease gradually back into their normal activities.
Concussions, like other sports injuries, can often be prevented, says Dr. Blatnik. While helmets and mouthguards are very important in preventing other injuries, they typically don’t prevent concussions. Instead, learning skills and correct techniques coupled with proper regulation are key, she says.
For instance, U.S. child soccer programs typically don’t allow younger participants to head balls. When heading is allowed, it’s important for coaches to teach proper technique, she says.
The same with football. The Pop Warner Association children’s football and cheerleading league has instituted safety measures including banning full-speed tackling and certain cheer moves. It also requires coaches to take safety training.
Safety regulations and proper coaching make sports safer for kids and dealing with concussions less of a headache for parents.
For more information on head and neck safety in children’s sports, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HEADS UP to Youth Sports website.
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