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Published on September 21, 2015

football, helmet, pads, cleats

Fall Sports and Concussion: If in doubt, sit them out

The crisp evenings, the popcorn, the band and school pride – there’s nothing quite like football season. Yet as fans cheer their team to victory, some moms and dads are anxiously watching their sons, wondering if that last tackle was a little too rough.

“Concussion is serious enough that it does qualify as a traumatic brain injury. On the spectrum of such injuries, concussion is the most mild, but it should still receive medical attention,” said Samuel Schimelpfenig, MD, Avera Medical Group pediatric sports medicine specialist. “Thankfully, concussion is usually not serious enough to have a life-changing impact.”

However, if signs of concussion are ignored and the athlete plays anyway, he or she can be at risk for a rare but serious disorder known as “second impact syndrome,” Schimelpfenig said. “The effects can be devastating.”

A risk in every sport

Not just football players are at risk. “There’s always a risk in every sport, during every season of the year,” Schimelpfenig said. “A helmet offers some degree of protection, but nothing is 100 percent.” In fact, younger children are at risk when playing actively on the school playground or backyard.

Most high schools provide ImPACT testing, a pre-participation evaluation that tests an athlete’s normal brain function, for example, memory, reaction time and coordination. If an injury occurs, the athlete can be evaluated against that baseline, helping physicians to make an accurate diagnosis.

Parents whose children participate in sports outside of school, or individual sports such as rollerblading, BMX biking, skateboarding or gymnastics might want to consider getting a baseline ImPACT evaluation.

Symptoms of concussion

Symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness and nausea. “They might have a stunned look, like their eyes don’t seem to be focusing, or they don’t seem to be conversing as they normally would,” Schimelpfenig said. A concussion can happen even if the athlete does not lose consciousness.

In the case of a possible concussion, that athlete needs to stay “out of play,” at an activity level determined by a physician, until brain function has returned to “baseline” on a post-concussion evaluation. Effects of concussion are individual, but typically can last for 10 to 14 days.

Learn more about baseline evaluation for concussion or ask your primary care provider.

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