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To Your Health: Keep young athletes safe from concussion

Dr. James Krcik

Dr. James Krcik

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:11AM



The fall sports season is well under way at area schools. Young athletes have been training for weeks to play their best and win.

But along with the excitement of watching a great sports competition, there’s cause for concern about an injury that affects up to 10 percent of all players in contact sports — concussion.

A concussion is a brain injury, caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to “bounce” back and forth in the skull.

Just mild force can trigger a cascade of symptoms, including headache, nausea, dizziness, double vision, confusion and tiredness. Concussions can alter an athlete’s quality of life and can even be life-threatening, without proper medical management that guides treatment and return-to-play decisions. In order to fully recover, the injured brain needs complete rest.

Most parents think of football when there’s talk of concussion, but more and more athletes in other sports such as soccer, ice hockey, wrestling and basketball are experiencing them, too.

Unfortunately, you can’t see a concussion. Signs and symptoms sometimes show up right after the injury or not until days or weeks later.

If your child reports any of the following signs of concussion or if you notice the symptoms yourself, seek medical attention right away:

◆ Appears dazed or stunned

◆ Is confused about assignment or position

◆ Forgets an instruction

◆ Is unsure of game, score or opponent

◆ Moves clumsily

◆ Answers questions slowly

◆ Loses consciousness (even briefly)

◆ Shows behavior or personality changes

◆ Can’t recall events prior to the hit or fall

◆ Can’t recall events after the hit or fall

While every sport is different, there are steps children can take to protect themselves from concussion.

For starters, talk to them about following their coach’s rules for safety and the rules of the sports, and encourage them to practice good sportsmanship.

Make sure they wear the right protective equipment for their sport, including helmets, padding, shin guards, and eye and mouth guards. All protective equipment should fit properly, be well maintained and be worn consistently and correctly.

If you think your child has suffered a concussion, seek medical attention right away. A healthcare professional will be able to decide how serious the concussion is and when it is safe for your child to return to sports.

Second, keep your child out of play until a healthcare professional says it’s OK to return. Concussions take time to heal. Children who return to play too soon — while the brain is still healing — risk a greater chance of having a second concussion. Second or later concussions can be very serious, causing permanent brain damage.

Tell your child’s coach about any recent concussion in any sport, especially if your child plays in multiple sports. A football coach, for instance, may not know that your child suffered a concussion playing basketball.

The Ingalls concussion program aims to address the hidden dangers of concussion facing young athletes. At-risk athletes can participate in ImPACT testing — an assessment tool that provides standard measures on brain processing, speed, memory and visual motor skills, which helps medical experts determine if concussion is improving.

Over 3,500 high schools across the nation, along with many collegiate and professional teams, currently use the ImPACT assessment tool — including dozens in the south suburbs, which received the program for free from Ingalls.

The goal is to make sure athletes are thoroughly evaluated, properly diagnosed and treated and monitored for safe return to play.

Ingalls works closely with the injured athletes and their families, schools, coaches, school nurses and referring physicians to facilitate a complete recovery.

The Ingalls program involves a full complement of experienced adult and pediatric medical and surgical specialists, including primary care sports medicine physicians, neuropsychologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, an orthopedic surgeon and physiatrists. In addition to assessment, management and treatment, the program also focuses on prevention.

People who have suffered a concussion or other sports-related injury, can call the Ingalls Sports Network at (708) 915-6824.

Krcik, an orthopedic surgeon and pediatric sports medicine specialist with offices in Flossmoor and Tinley Park, is affiliated with the Ingalls concussion program and the Ingalls Advanced Orthopedic Institute.



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