Youth football players on the field

Child Health, News | one year ago

Going the Extra Yard for Concussion Safety

Concussions in sports are cause for concern among parents of athletes. Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers and Atrium Health experts share what parents need to know to keep their kids safe.

Now that kids across the country are back in school and fall activities have begun, parents may be concerned about keeping children safe while they play football or other sports. Football is one of the most popular youth sports, with 3.5 million kids playing each year – but it also results in about 50,000 annual concussions. For parents, this risk has made football one of the most concerning activities in which a child can participate.

First-of-its-kind Youth Football Head Injury Study

Youth football players running drills at practice
Youth football players running drills at practice

To address this growing concern, Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers set out to improve the safety of youth football. They found head impacts can be drastically reduced by changing practice drills. The results from this first-of-its-kind study have provided league officials, coaches and other health professionals across the country new techniques and guidelines on ways to avoid head injuries and concussions and improve youth sports safety. Since then, our researchers have applied these outcomes to study head injuries in other sports, helmeted and non-helmeted, in both boys and girls.

These studies also highlighted the importance of athletic trainers at school-aged sports practices and events. Atrium Health responded to this need by increasing its coverage for student athletes and provides athletic training services to nearly 100 schools across North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, which makes it one of the largest programs in the nation.

“Throughout the school year, our athletic trainers work closely with high school coaches to help keep their student athletes safe and healthy and to treat and help rehabilitate sports-related injuries,” says Christopher Ina, manager of athletic training services for Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion?

While athletic trainers and other health care experts are trained to recognize a concussion, it’s important for parents to know the signs and symptoms. 

The most common symptoms of concussion are:

  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Appearing dazed and not remembering the event that caused the possible concussion

The signs of a concussion (dizziness, nausea, headaches, light sensitivity and confusion).
The common signs and symptoms of a concussion

In some instances, these symptoms can go away in as little as 15 minutes. But that doesn’t mean that a concussion has run its course. Concussion symptoms continue to affect 30% of people three months after injury and adolescents face an even higher risk of delayed recovery. Additional symptoms may not occur until hours or even days after the trauma. 

The presence of any of these delayed symptoms should prompt a visit to a health care provider, especially if they become worse:

  • Fatigue
  • Problems with thinking, concentration and memory
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Difficulties with sleep 
  • Emotional issues such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety and depression

“The key thing is making the diagnosis early,” says Dr. David Popoli, assistant professor of pediatric orthopaedics and rehabilitation at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “The longer something goes undiagnosed, the trickier it becomes to manage the different elements of concussion. A lot of treatment is tailoring it to what people are experiencing. There’s really not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Concussion?

One thing all concussion treatment regimens share is rest, which allows the brain to heal. This generally includes avoiding physical exertionespecially manual labor and sportsand mental activities, such as reading, watching TV and using a computer, until the symptoms subside, followed by a gradual return to normal activities. 

Going back to school, work or the playing field prematurely is inviting trouble, since the primary risk factor for concussion is a previous concussion. “There’s no time frame during which you should expect a complete recovery,” Popoli says. “The vast majority of patients will resolve their symptoms within a month. At a bare minimum, you’re looking at five days.”

Recently, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded a $10 million grant to the Four Corners Youth Consortium, a group of academic medical centers, including Wake Forest University School of Medicine, that are studying concussions in school-aged children. 

"We have an incredible multi-disciplinary team that will help the consortium find a better way to answer the first question every teen with a concussion has: 'When will I feel better?'," said Dr. Scott Otallah. assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "We are proud to be the site leaders for this study that will include contributions from sports medicine physicians, neurologists, biomedical engineers, neuropsychologists and neuro-radiologists and builds on our strong tradition of concussion research."

Wake Forest University School of Medicine principal investigators include Otallah, Popoli and Dr. Christopher Miles, associate professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The 5-year, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)-funded project called Concussion Assessment, Research and Education for Kids, or CARE4Kids study will enroll more than 1,300 children nationwide.

If you suspect your child has had a concussion or a sports-related injury, our experts across the Piedmont Triad and greater Charlotte regions in North Carolina and the northwest, central and south regions of Georgia are available for same-day or next-day appointments.