While involvement in school sports is probably one of the healthiest things, physically and mentally, your child can do, the pressure to play harder and practice longer brings an increased risk of head injury.
Medical, sports and school communities are all taking a serious new look at how to treat concussions caused by a hit to, or shaking of, the head. Falls during equestrian, cheerleading and gymnastics events are producing concussions at an increasing rate, along with the more obvious contact sports like football and soccer.
"A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (or TBI) and it is similar to a stroke in that both affect normal brain function and may have similar symptoms," explained Neurologist Frederick Nahm, MD, PhD, and head of the Stroke Center at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. Immediate symptoms may include confusion, disorientation and sometimes falling unconscious. Ignoring these symptoms is outright dangerous.
"During a game, your adrenaline is going and you're pumped up, so it's easy to brush it off. But whether you bump your head during sports, a car accident, a fall or during military activity, it may not be until that night or a few days later that you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or nauseous," Nahm added. "The most important thing with a head injury, if you feel as though you're having symptoms you have to tell someone and seek evaluation.
Taking time to heal makes a lifetime of difference
Getting a 14-year-old to take it easy, to stop using the computer, to stop texting, is not easy, but it's very important to get that teenager to understand what happened. Parents need to be involved to get the injured child engaged by allowing the brain to rest as part of the healing process. Dr. Nahm points out that, "a thorough treatment plan focuses on the emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues that can arise following even a mild brain injury."
Without proper healing, a student who never worried may develop anxiety about performance at school, and may find that no matter how much effort they put into it, they can't manage to hold the grade point average they had prior to injury.
"These secondary complications, like anxiety disorders or a new phobia of tests, memory problems, depression, apathy, inattention and other behaviors are indelible and can be difficult to treat. It's not something the student can control or work harder to 'fix' because It's the result of an injured brain. Only a physician trained in the treatment of concussion or traumatic brain injury (typically a neurologist or neuropsychologist) can do a thorough assessment for a severe brain injury," said Dr. Nahm.
Returning to normal activity without proper healing creates an increased risk of second impact syndrome; repeated head injury, especially injury before total healing has occurred, carries a far more serious threat to long-term complications.
If you bang your head, take it seriously, tell someone, and even if you have no immediate symptoms, take the time for an evaluation.
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