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The Dangers of Concussions in Youth Sports

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Sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among youth aged 15 to 24, outnumbered only by motor vehicle crashes. It’s estimated that:

  • Between 1.7 and 3 million sports-related concussions happen every year in the U.S.
  • 2 out of every 10 high school athletes will suffer a concussion during the play season
  • 5 in 10 concussions go unreported

The dangers of concussions in youth sports include increased risk of future concussions and possible long-term effects associated with repeated head trauma. A phenomenon known as second-impact syndrome (SIS)—an often-fatal injury that occurs when the brain is injured before fully healing from a previous concussion—is a very real danger for high school athletes who jump back into the game too soon.

Which Youth Sports Are Most Dangerous for Concussions?

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury known as a “mild” traumatic brain injury, or MTBI. It is considered mild because it is rarely fatal.

That is not to say a concussion is not serious. A concussion is damage to the brain that causes temporary loss of normal brain function. It is most commonly caused by a blow to the head, or by powerful impact to the body that causes the brain to move violently inside the skull.

Tackle American football is the most common cause of concussions among high school and college athletes. Women’s soccer is the leading cause of concussions among female high school and collegiate athletes.

The youth sports most likely to cause concussions in athletes are:

  • Football
  • Ice hockey or field hockey
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Rugby
  • Basketball
  • Baseball/softball
  • Boxing

Youth may also suffer a concussion when participating in physical activities like biking, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, rollerblading, or roller skating.

Risks of Head Trauma Among Football Athletes

It is no secret that football athletes face an extremely high risk of concussion every time they practice or play in a game. A study on the difference between flag and tackle football found that each youth tackle football athlete experienced an average of 378 head impacts across the season.

In the last several years, greater attention has been given to the dangers of concussions in the National Football League (NFL), particularly in light of a 2017 Boston University study that shined a revealing light on the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among football athletes.

CTE is a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head trauma. At this point in medical progress, it can only be diagnosed through an autopsy of the brain. While there is still much research to be done on the effects of this progressive brain disorder, CTE has been linked to memory loss, cognitive impairment, mood and behavioral changes, motor neuron diseases, and dementia.

Researchers from Boston University determined, after examining the brains of high school, collegiate, and professional football players, that CTE was present in:

  • 99% of NFL athletes
  • 91% of college football players
  • 21% of high school football players

The increased frequency within the higher levels of the sport was consistent with CTE’s classification as a progressive condition that worsens with repeated trauma.

Although it is believed that the effects of CTE can be improved and even reversed with proper care and treatment, this improvement is not possible when the athlete continues to be subjected to repeated concussions, many of which may be unidentified or unacknowledged by coaches and athletic trainers eager to keep their best players on the field.

At the high school level, it is very difficult for a teenage football athlete to advocate for their own health. As many who have participated in high school athletics recognize, most calls regarding the athlete’s injuries and ability to play are made solely by coaches and trainers. Many youth do not have the confidence or medical knowledge to feel comfortable opposing the views of their coach, even when their own bodies are crying out for help.

When it comes to concussions, these cries for help come in the form of a range of physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. For parents of high school athletes who participate in high-contact sports like football or boxing, it is essential to learn the signs of a sports concussion.

What Are the Signs of a Sports Concussion?

Players of youth sports and their parents should learn the signs of a concussion and be willing to recognize them, no matter how much play time the athlete might miss if diagnosed. Some of the most common signs of head trauma among youth sports athletes include:

  • Headache
  • Strong feelings of pressure in the head
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to answer simple questions
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Unexplained emotional and behavioral changes

Remember, it can take up to three days for the signs of a concussion to appear. In the days following a contact sports injury, watch your teen for any symptoms that can indicate head trauma. If your child displays any signs of a concussion, seek medical attention immediately. It is critical that injured youth be seen by a doctor right away if you suspect they may have sustained a traumatic head injury.

How Parents Can Help Teens Prevent Sports Concussions

There is no way a parent can prevent every concussion. There are many valuable benefits to participating in team athletics, and the dangers of concussions in youth sports should not be a deterrent to allowing your child to participate on a high school team.

There are, however, ways a parent can help equip their child to play as safely as possible—and to know when to stop. Consider these tips for helping youth athletes steer clear of the dangers of concussions:

  • Encourage your child to take part in lower-impact sports and athletics that interest them
  • Teach your child to recognize the signs of a concussion and to speak up if they believe they have been injured
  • Make sure your child has high-quality, well-fitting equipment appropriate for their sport
  • Give your child the opportunity to receive coaching and training that teaches them the right techniques and maneuvers to minimize head trauma
  • Practice with your child to give them more chances to develop their skills
  • Educate your child on the risks of repeated concussions and motivate them to avoid risky maneuvers when playing

Lastly, it is critical that parents insist that their child receive medical care and take time off after being diagnosed with a concussion. This is important for many reasons related to healing, but most importantly to avoid the risk of fatal SIS.

Consult With a Legal Professional About Your Child’s Sports Injury

Liability for youth sports injuries can be murky legal territory. But in cases in which there is clear negligence on the part of a school, organization, coach, or other party responsible for a child’s safety, it may be the right of the family to take legal action to prevent future harm to youth athletes.

If you have questions about a youth athlete’s injuries that you believe were caused by the negligence or willful wrongdoing of an authority figure, we encourage you to get in touch with our law office to discuss your case.

Buckingham & Vega Law Firm is a personal injury law firm serving victims of injury in Albuquerque and throughout the Southwest. Our attorneys devote an area of practice to representing victims of brain injury.

A free consultation is available for your family when you are ready to seek justice.

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