December 05, 2014

Concussions In Youth Sport: Recognizing Symptoms & Respecting Recovery

Concussions In Youth Sport: Recognizing Symptoms & Respecting Recovery

Football season is in full gear and teams are ready to determine strategies that will hopefully lead to the playoffs. One challenge that many teams face is the injury list, specifically concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a ‘ding,’ ‘getting your bell rung,’ or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.”


Sixty-nine concussions have been reported by Frontline for the 2014 NFL season (through week 11). The consequences of concussions have gained media attention and the “shake-it-off” mentality has slowly changed into a mentality of medical clearance and reduced risk. With 132 reported concussions in the 2013-14 season, NFL owners voted to change rules regarding hitting with the crown of the head to decrease the risk of injury. This and other changes in the sport are intended to increase safety for athletes. In addition, more players are coming forward and talking about their concussion symptoms and warning young people about the seriousness of concussions. Hopefully the stigma related to symptoms of TBIs, like depression, confusion, and dementia, will decrease as more people address the issue.


Concussions are also a problem in youth sports. The CDC Head’s Up Concussion in Youth Sports Activity Report reported that 65% of concussion patients who reported to hospital emergency rooms for medical treatment were between the ages of 5-18. The CDC recognized the seriousness of this issue and developed the Heads Up program, which was designed to help adults recognize and respond to concussions in youth sports. The program offers free resources and online training. In fact, 63% of coaches who took the online training reported that they perceived concussions as more serious post-training than they previously believed. The Head’s Up training has sets of information designed specifically for parents, coaches, medical professionals, school staff, and athletes and is available in English and Spanish.

It is important for youth athletes and adults to recognize the signs of a concussion and to realize that an athlete does not have to be knocked unconscious to obtain a concussion. The length of time symptoms may present can vary from a day to several weeks (sometimes even longer). The Mayo Clinic provided the following list as symptoms:

Athletes who experience these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately. After a thorough medical examination, youth athletes should work with their medical team, coaches, parents, and teachers to determine when return to play and return to the classroom is appropriate.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) developed concussion management guidelines that include responsibilities for adults and youth athletes:

If it is suspected that an athlete has suffered from a concussion it is vital that the athlete receive clearance from a medical doctor prior to returning to play. Athletes should be encouraged to honestly report symptoms to reduce the risk of future medical complications. A difficulty about recovery from a concussion is that the symptoms are hard to see. One can easily see a physical injury like a broken arm or sprained ankle. Concussions are very different in that symptom monitoring can be tricky. Athletes might feel pressured to return to play and academics faster than they should – it is up to adults to help monitor the recovery to keep the athletes safe in the long run.

For more information about concussion assessment and recovery, please contact IAE Sport Psych.

Dr. Michele Kerulis, LCPC, CC-AASP is the Director of Sport Psychology and Athletic Enhancement.  For more information about concussion assessment and recovery, please contact IAE Sport Psych at 800-461-9533, Ext. 4.  


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