Sports-related injury concerns shouldn’t be ignored

PARENTING PEARLS: Sports-related injury concerns shouldn’t be ignored

The young athlete has many needs that must be taken in consideration because of their growing bodies, and, unfortunately, sports programs that should be enjoyable for children and adolescents have become a source of serious and sometimes life-challenging injuries.

Although professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, encourage participation in both competitive and noncompetitive sports, children who show an interest and predisposition toward an activity should be encouraged, but not pushed in directions to which they have no interest or aptitude. Children as young as those in early elementary school can spend hours on club sports teams, with additional time for private coaching. Many athletes in high school carry unrealistic expectations of receiving one of very few scholarships to play on Division 1 sports teams in college, or burn out well before receiving a diploma.

Recently, I had a discussion with a school nurse, who is deeply concerned with the many athletic generated injuries she sees, including a growing number of concussions, soft-tissue, spinal cord and skeletal injuries. The seriousness of all these conditions cannot be denied. I have worked with young clients who have had knee replacements before the age of 20. Another had chronic pain syndrome resulting from a tennis injury, and yet another suffered from seizures caused by tendinitis that became a virus that traveled to the brain. This girl was unable to attend school and required intensive sessions of physical therapy with no guarantee of a full recovery.

Last year, I renewed acquaintance with a friend from high school. It was wonderful to catch up on old times and learn about her family. She shared that a deep source of sadness, and understandably so, was that her son, a promising student who had received a scholarship to an outstanding college, now suffered from brain damage as the result of repeated injuries on the football field. He now lives at home under the care of his parents. Attending college is no longer viable and the prognosis for this once promising brilliant young man is a guarded future.

Another student reported he had suffered from four concussions in two years of playing varsity football. As complications have developed, football is out of the question, and his future is clouded by the potential of future health problems.

Although using proper well-tended equipment, and strictly following the rules of the game may decrease the incidence of concussions, nothing can prevent them. Returning to a sport after suffering a concussion should be evaluated — unlike the young man who, just weeks after his injury, was back on the playing field. He alone was not responsible for his zealousness, his parents and coaches, too, bear the burden. The growing problem of student athletes and concussions demands immediate attention. The Federal Government, National Association of School Nurses, and other reputable health care organizations have warned about this situation. The number of student athletes suffering from concussions has grown at an increasingly alarming rate, and those with football injuries rank the highest.

”The National Federation of State High School Associations said 7.5 million students played high school sports in the 2008-09 school year. Of those, according to the Concussion Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, 400,000 suffered concussions. Over the past decade, the concussion rate has grown to 8.9 percent, the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study showed.” (

Concussions may not always be evident, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, can be recognized by five major features: a direct blow to the head or face, rapid onset of a short-lived impairment, functional rather than structural injury, clinical symptoms that vary in severity, and no abnormality of neuron-imaging. A loss of consciousness is uncommon. Other symptoms to watch for are physical changes, a change in cognitive functioning (including problems sleeping) and in severe situations, amnesia. Rest is imperative and schoolwork needs to be modified. The Academy also encourages a return to sports in modified stages, from no activity to light, to sport-specific non-contact training drills, and finally, full contact practice. Sadly, these recommendations are often not followed or acknowledged.

As evidence keeps piling up about the prevalence and long-term dangers of concussive injuries, the U. S. House of Representatives has voted to set guidelines on managing concussions among student athletes as a means of protection against long-term health injuries. (The bill is H.R. 1347).

Among the standards articulated in the bill would be established limits for allowing students to return to the playing field after suffering a concussion. The Department of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control, has published a Fact Sheet for Parents aptly called “Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports” (available in Spanish and English). This sheet warns that even a bump on the head can be serious. Parents also are directed to speak with coaches, who may not be aware that a teen has received a concussion in another sporting activity:

Authorities voicing concern over the growing number of sports-related injuries suffered by our youth should not be ignored. We do not need to discourage participation, however. Perhaps the time is now to scale back, or if impossible, heed warnings and do not let a suspected injury go untreated. Children are too precious to have their health comprised for years to come in the name of the game.