Health Note: Watch Young Athletes for Signs of Concussion

By Christina Elston

Even if he doesn’t lose consciousness, a child who gets hit in the head on the playing field could have a concussion. And the symptoms could go on longer – and be subtler – than you think, says neurologist and concussion expert Vernon B. Williams, M.D.

Watch for Signs of ConcussionWilliams offers this advice regarding child injuries and possible concussions:

• A child who is severely injured and unconscious on the playing field should not be moved. Check the child’s breathing and heartbeat, and get emergency medical help.

• If a child suffers a head injury but is conscious and seems OK, apply ice as needed, let the child rest and watch him or her carefully. Symptoms of concussion can include headache, nausea and trouble concentrating. These are things a small child might not be able to describe, so watch for signals such as squinting or excessive crankiness.

• Even if your injured child saw a doctor and had a brain-scanning MRI that came back normal, stay watchful. A brain scan won’t tell all. “Those things can be normal and the brain can still be suffering the effects of a concussion,” says Williams, director of the Pain Management Clinic and Sports Neurology at the Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles. Williams serves as a medical consultant to the Lakers, the Dodgers and other L.A. sports teams.

Post-Concussive Syndrome

Usually the effects of a concussion don’t last long. But some kids suffer from post-concussive syndrome and have problems with insomnia, headaches, nausea, memory loss, concentration, reaction time and memory that can last for months. It can even cause personality changes.

Unfortunately, some of these symptoms seem like typical “kid” behavior. “That’s one of the tough things for us when we’re trying to diagnose concussion,” says Williams. “Is that from the concussion, or is that just them being a teenager?”

He advises asking a coach who knows your child well to help spot changes if an injury has occurred. “Sometimes, teammates and friends will point things out,” Williams adds.


Where doctors once relied on time to correct post-concussive syndrome, they’re now stepping in to manage any pain with medications, and offer physical therapy and cognitive rehabilitation. Williams, whose son plays Little League baseball, describes it as “therapy for the brain.”During recovery, kids might also need extra time for assignments at school, or to have testing dates pushed back. And to give the brain a rest, doctors may restrict video gaming and even iPod use, “because that’s also a cognitive stressor.”

The key is to rest and protect the brain until it heals. Even after your child is better, you’ll want to watch him or her carefully, says Williams. “Once you’ve had a concussion, you’re at a higher risk of having a second.”

See After Concussion for more information about getting support and managing behavior during the post-concussion recovery period.


Concussion: A Game Changer


Christina Elston is senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media

Check out Christina Elston's family heath blog HealthE.

August 2008