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Football Sitting on a Field
Family Health

Concussions in High School Sports: How to Lower the Risk

Are concussions in high school sports on the rise or are we just hearing more about them these days? The answer is both.

There has also been more discussion in the media lately about concussion awareness in both high school and professional sports, and the possible long-term consequences associated with the injury. Perhaps the most notable mention of concussions was the 2015 movie "Concussion," which told the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who uncovered the brain damage that many football players experience after sustaining repeated concussions.

But concussions are more common today than they used to be. In the United States, overall visits to emergency rooms for concussion symptoms or related injuries have increased by 47 percent from 2007 to 2013, without any signs of a decline.

What Is a Concussion?

Simply put, a concussion is damage to your brain tissue. When your head jerks suddenly from side to side or front to back, or your head hits something hard, these jolts can damage the brain tissue or cause chemical changes, resulting in a concussion.

Concussions — especially concussions in high school sports — are surprisingly easy to sustain, and they can range from mild to severe. No two concussions are alike, even if they happen to the same person. Concussions should be taken very seriously as they can have long-term consequences, particularly if you have more than one.

Increasing Safety in Sports

The only true way to prevent a concussion is to never have an accident. Obviously this isn't realistic, so we need to work on reducing our risk of becoming injured. This includes protecting children who participate in a variety of sports activities. While concussions are commonly associated with football, they can occur in any sport. Other sports that could cause concussions include ice hockey, lacrosse, basketball, and even cycling.

Whatever the sport or activity, proper equipment helps protect the body from accidental injury. In the case of head injuries, helmets are absolutely necessary. It's important to ensure that the helmet is approved for the intended activity and that it fits properly. However, while a helmet may prevent trauma, if the force is hard enough, your brain can still bounce inside your skull, resulting in a concussion.

The research isn't clear about whether mouth guards can help prevent concussions. A few small studies have suggested that mouth guards can absorb some of the force, which could limit how hard your head snaps back. But other researchers aren't so sure. Regardless, it's never a bad idea to wear a mouth guard when participating in just about any sports activity. Mouth guards can help prevent injury to the face, teeth, and mouth. And if they may lessen the chance of a concussion, it's worth erring on the side of caution.

Other Ways to Reduce Risk

Here are a few other tips for preventing injuries that could result in concussions:

  • Inspect the playing field for rough spots or holes that could cause falls.
  • Encourage respect for the rules, including no "dirty" hits or plays.
  • If there are goal posts or end posts, ensure they are well padded.
  • Teach proper sports techniques. Accidents in sports can occur when the participants haven't mastered the correct techniques.

Concussions are serious injuries and should be taken seriously, even if they seem mild. If your child received a blow to the head or a severe jolt to their body while playing a sport, check with your doctor to ensure they haven't sustained a concussion. If they have, they'll need the chance to rest and fully heal to reduce the risk of future injuries.

Posted in Family Health

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN is a Montreal-based writer. She is a registered nurse with many years of experience working with patients and their families, literally from birth to death. Her first job in nursing was in postpartum and her last in hospice. She has written for outlets like Costco Connection, Forbes.com, and Oncology Live, to name a few, and is author of the book, Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications & How to Take Them Safely.

*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.