The problem of head concussions is getting much more attention these days, especially when it comes to young people playing sports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even have an initiative called HEADS UP dedicated to providing critical information about a sports concussion to parents, coaches, sports officials and young athletes.
A 2018 study published in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology estimates that approximately 12.1 per cent of young athletes in the United States get a concussion while playing sports. The risk is higher the older they get, too. They state that 18-year olds have two times more risk than 13-year olds. Girls also have a higher risk of concussion than boy athletes.
The key isn’t to keep kids from playing sports. Instead, it is to increase awareness about concussions and how to prevent them.
Why Youth Sports Matter
If the risk of a sports concussion is so serious, why not just eliminate sports in schools? The answer is obvious – physical exercise is important for overall health.
The benefits go beyond the physical, though. Sports playing builds memory, repetition, and learning – all of which are directly applicable to classwork. Furthermore, the drive and goal-setting abilities required for sports may be applied to the classroom.
They are also a practical option for young people who need stress relief. Without them, they may turn to more harmful ways of dealing with anxiety and stress.
The Risks of Concussions
Concussions, especially repeated ones, can come with long-term complications. Long-term effects of concussion in young people may include decreased physical activity, overweight or obesity, psychological problems, and high healthcare expenses.
Catastrophic results following concussion in youth sports are uncommon. Unfortunately, there are reported incidents of young people dying after a sports-related head injury and multiple concussions.
How to Prevent Sports-Related Concussions in Young People
Studies indicate that it is best to approach this challenge from many different angles, starting with changing the rules. An example of this is body checking in ice hockey. A 2010 study published by the JAMA Network found that eliminating body checking in ice hockey among 11 and 12-year olds reduced the risk of concussions by 64 per cent. That alone could potentially eliminate 10,000 concussions each year.
There is evidence that neuromuscular training warm-up programs can reduce the risk of all injuries, including concussions. For example, one study found the number of injuries drop by 35 per cent in various sports, including soccer, basketball, rugby, and basic physical education.
Data published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that wearing a mouth guard (off the shelf or custom fit) reduces the risks of concussion in youth ice hockey players by more than 60%.
Helmet fit also is critical. Criteria have been created and tested in juvenile ice hockey and tackle football, indicating that a perfect helmet fit may have a protective effect and lower concussion severity.
Despite the risk, some parents are still hesitant to take precautions against sports concussions. They think it might interfere with the fun of playing sports. However, administrators and legislators are taking steps to ensure young people can play sports, still have fun, and yet have better protection against a sports concussion.