Beware of Head Injuries in Young Athletes

Beware of Head Injuries in Young Athletes

By Kingman Regional Medical Center Staff

One in six student athletes will sustain a concussion during any given sports season. This number is not insignificant, and the truth is that many concussions go unreported and undiagnosed. When you know what to look for, getting treatment and proper healing for a concussion can be much easier.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury typically caused by a blow to the head. Though the effects of are usually mild and temporary, concussion does affect brain function. Student athletes who play contact sports are at increased risk for a concussion.

Chris Bowers, a KRMC doctor of physical therapy specializes in concussion. He describes what happens within the brain:

The impact causes damage to the neurons of the brain and the membranes of the affected cells. The contents of those cells leak out into the surrounding tissues. Ultimately, the brain needs to recruit as much energy as possible to the area to start healing that tissue. When the body exerts energy for physical activity, the brain suffers.

This is why it is important to give athletes enough recovery time. “We see problems when a student gets injured and then is encouraged to get back in the game.”

A local youngster deals with concussion

Brady is a local little league player. His mom, Anna tells us their concussion story.

Last April, Brady was in fifth grade. He stepped up to bat at a weekend game, ready to hit the ball. Instead, the pitch hit Brady’s ear where there was a cutout in his helmet.

Brady dropped to the ground, but moments later, he got up and went on to first base. He played the rest of the inning, going on to steal home. Anna met him with ice as he left the field. When she took off Brady’s helmet, she saw he was bleeding – his ear had split and was quite swollen. He complained of head pain and ringing in the ear, so Anna took him home to rest and recover.

In retrospect, she says “I should have taken him to the emergency room.”

Dr. Bowers advises visiting the emergency room with discretion. “It really depends on the nature of the injury,” he says. “I think in Brady’s situation it would have been helpful in case there was a skull fracture from the impact of the ball.”

However, he warns that concussion symptoms are not always immediately obvious.

Brady suffered headaches and missed practices the next week, but he wanted to return to the game and be there for his team. He suited up and went to play that Friday night.

Unfortunately, Brady took another fast pitch to the same ear. He dropped again immediately.

This time, Anna saw the cumulative effect. She took Brady home and applied ice to his injuries. “He wasn’t himself,” she recalls. She remembers Brady being afraid, confused, and in pain.

Anna had heard of KRMC’s Concussion Assessment Program and reached out to Dr. Bowers for guidance. “Brady was able to feel safe and like he was getting the help he needed.” says Anna. In a few short months under Dr. Bowers’ care, Brady’s headaches and other symptoms subsided.

As for the future, both Anna and Brady are ready to move on. “There are risks in any sport and in life. I want him to be active and have fun, and I don’t want him to be in fear,” she says. “You just have to be aware of [the risk] and know how to get treatment and help.”

Anna says she would like to see children’s sports leagues in the area establish some protocol for how to respond to head injuries.

Chris Bowers is working to make that happen.

KRMC Concussion Program Initiative

Kingman Regional Medical Center’s Spine and Sports Injury Clinic offers a Concussion Assessment Program aimed at local student athletes. The program involves evaluation prior to sports activity to determine a standard level of nervous system function. These results can be referenced in the event of a future concussion, which can help return the athletes to their sport quicker and safer.

How does it work?

For the assessment, the students are subjected to a range of tests using an innovative piece of equipment called the Neurocom Balance Manager ® to determine baseline levels of balance associated with inner ear function.

Additionally, KRMC will conduct a neurocognitive assessment using ImPACT ® – a computerized concussion evaluation system. The athlete will perform tasks like word and shape recognition to measure functions such as verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time.

Finally, athletes will also perform a Functional Movement Screen ® to look at motor control, core stability, and risk for injuries.

In addition to the assessment, Dr. Bowers works with parents, students, and schools’ athletic faculty to educate them about concussions.

For more information, contact Chris Bowers at (928) 692-4630.
Services provided by the KRMC Spine and Sports Injury Clinic, 3801 Santa Rosa Dr.

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