Many high school students look forward to participating in high school sports and other physical activities as part of their high school experience. While school may be ending for the year, many athletes will be practicing over the summer for next years games. Football is one example of a sport where the players practice the entire summer in order to be ready for the next school year’s season. Typically most people look at the fun and the positive experience these activities provide for students. However, high school athletes do get hurt, sometimes seriously. High school athletes do suffer broken arms and legs, but they also suffer concussions, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Parents are now learning that “basic” concussions in teenagers are more common than people think and can create more problems that people think. A concussion can cause physical impairment such as not being able to walk or emotional issues such as a teenager suddenly having anger problems or depression. Unfortunately, this year we had example of these issues, when a wrestler from College Park High School suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed.
As a result of these head injuries, many teenagers develop Post Concussion Syndrome after a concussion. Teenagers can have violent mood swings, difficulties concentrating and with memory. This can cause problems at school and with family and friends. I have seen teenagers who get so depressed by these changes that they become suicidal. Post Concussion Syndrome can last a year and often physicians do not warn parents or teenagers about this syndrome. This makes matters worse because they feel like they are crazy because they don’t understand why they have the symptoms. Also these symptoms can create problems at school that the student may need accommodations for in order for the student to understand the classes.
We have been hearing more and more about concussion in professional sports in recent years. We have also seen professional athletes walk away from their careers because they are not willing to risk the after effects of multiple concussions. A fact that some in professional sports do not want to be publicized. Will Smith stared in a movie regarding a professional football player and how his life significantly changed after several concussions. The National Football League tried to stop this movie from being made and shown, but they lost.
However, we do have examples. Mohammad Ali is the most notable example of how multiple concussions can change a person and leave them disabled. Also a news anchor for ABC News documented how his life changed after receiving a traumatic brain injury while covering the war in Afghanistan.
Concussions, Traumatic Brain Injuries and Spinal Cord Injuries also occur in teenagers. Teen athletes such as football players routinely suffer concussions, traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries. Many of these athletes suffer permanent brain damage such as difficulty remembering things or emotional issues such as mood swings. Also a number of high school athletes do die from concussions every year.
A research study from Boston University released shows that boys who play football before the age of 12 years old are more likely to have memory problems and problems making decisions as adults. This study also shows that boys who play football before age 12 are three times more likely to develop clinical depression as an adult. The study suggests the reason this occurs is because around the age of 12, a child’s brain is undergoing a great deal of development at this age. Robert Stern, one of the authors of the study, explained that “the brain is going through this incredible time of growth between the years of 10 and 12, and if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life.”
Another MRI study, by the Wakes Forest School of Medicine, showed that boys between the ages of 8 years old to 13 years old who played even just one season of football showed signs of diminished brain function.
High school athletes are not the only teenagers at risk for concussions or other serious injuries. Teens in general are at risk because teens are willing to engage in risky behavior such as jumping off something or racing cars. Many teens feel they are safe. They hear about these issues but think it would never happen to them. However we never know who it will happen to. Therefore, parents you need to educate and monitor your teenager’s behavior. If you have a teen athlete, you may need to make the decision to stop them from playing a sport if they have suffered a couple concussions. This is not easy but you must think of their lives after high school.
Also boys are not the only ones at risk for concussions. Girls are at risk for concussions and other serious injuries. In fact, some studies show that cheerleaders are at a higher risk of getting a concussion than football players. Cheerleaders do not use helmets and have no head protection. Also many people assume a child needs to be knocked out in order to sustain a concussion. This is not true. You can sustain a concussion without losing consciousness. So football players are not the only one at risks. Any high school athlete is at risk – boy or girl. Anything that causes a jarring of the head can cause a concussion. Our brain sits in fluid in our skull. Therefore any jarring force can cause the brain to hit the side of the skull and cause a concussion. This is why all high school athletes are at risk for concussions.
I have included a link to a YouTube video where a physician describes the basic information about what happens to a brain during a concussion and the process of recovery from a concussion. This is a must see for any parent https://youtu.be/zCCD52Pty4A.
In addition to this video I have included a fact sheet from the CDC regarding information about concussions for you to review http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/pdfs/schools/tbi_factsheets_parents-508-a.pdf.
I have also included this link from the CDC which helps parents, coaches and schools https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/.
Parents need to talk to their teenagers’ school and coaches regarding making sure that they use the latest safety equipment for their sport. Parents may even want to research what the latest safety equipment so if your teen’s school is not using the latest safety equipment, you can inform the school. The ultimate goal is we want high school sports to be fun and safe for high school students.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and their families. For more information on Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice, where he treats Post Concussion Syndrome, please visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.