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posted: 5/21/2017 7:30 AM

Should I let my child play contact sports?

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  • U.S.A. Football, the national governing body for amateur football, announced that they will implement changes this fall in select pilot programs to make the game safer.

    U.S.A. Football, the national governing body for amateur football, announced that they will implement changes this fall in select pilot programs to make the game safer.
    Thinkstock photo

  • Dr. Carrie Jaworski

    Dr. Carrie Jaworski

 
By Dr. Carrie Jaworski

If you have children in athletics, you're probably aware of the heightened concern over the risk associated with concussions.

U.S.A. Football, the national governing body for amateur football, recently announced that they will implement changes this fall in select pilot programs to make the game safer.

Those changes include a smaller playing field, fewer players, removing the "three-point stance" at the line of scrimmage, and eliminating special teams.

In Australia, young athletes don't tackle in football until high school. The earlier years are based on learning strategies and fundamentals of the game. It seems that we may be headed in that direction as well.

U.S.A. Football is using the best available knowledge they have to change the game a little to make it safer, but not so much that it makes it a different sport altogether.

Concussion awareness is a good thing.

Media attention centered around deceased professional athletes who have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has brought it even further to the forefront. The difficult part is that the science is still trying to catch up with the story.

We know CTE exists and that hitting your head multiple times is not good, but we don't know what the set point is and who is most susceptible.

We need to pay attention to the research because every second it's evolving. This can be confusing for parents who are wondering, "Is this something I need to be worried about?"

The advice I give parents when they ask, "Should I let my child play?" is for them to remember that the vast majority of people who suffer a concussion do just fine. It is a very small group of people who struggle.

In addition, there are many benefits to being active and involved in a team sport. We have to balance that with the need to protect our children.

How one youth responds to a head injury is very different from the next. Typically, 90 percent will recover in one to three weeks, which is considered a normal time frame.

It's the other small percentage who, for whatever reason, will struggle to get back to the classroom or suffer with chronic headaches. These are the athletes who should see a concussion specialist who can help them get back on track as well as decide if a sport is no longer safe for them to play.

I also tell parents to be proactive. Surround yourself with good coaches and mentors who are educated in the proper techniques and have the athlete's best interest in mind.

Talk to your kids about injuries. If they are experiencing pain that doesn't feel right, remind them that it's always best to speak up.

The sooner they learn to advocate for themselves, the better.

• Dr. Carrie Jaworski is director of primary care sports medicine for the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute.

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