Athletes, put head injury prevention, treatment on the roster

Conventional wisdom and scientific studies tell us that participation in team sports is beneficial for young people. There's the fitness factor and the likelihood that student athletes avoid unhealthy behavior. Team players tend to perform better in core subjects and figure out how to best manage their time. Athletes see persistence and practice pay off and young people learn how to handle pressure.

In the last decade, all of the plusses have been shaded by the anxiety of head injury and concussion as stories emerge of beloved athletes who suffer from CTE, a degenerative brain disease resulting from repeated hits to the head.

According to the CDC, about 2.5 million U.S. high school students self-reported having at least one sports-related concussion over a one-year period. That's enough to stir the concern of any parent of a child participating in running or wrestling, soccer or softball and football or hockey.

This time of the year, Dr. Poonam P. Thaker, M.D., commonly sees student athletes with overuse injuries, sprains, strains and concussion. The Sports Medicine and Family Medicine physician who practices at AMITA Health Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, noted that most of us associate concussion with football, but the disorder doesn't discriminate.

"We absolutely see student athletes suffering concussion playing other sports," the Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship program explained. "Concussions can occur with many different sports, but most commonly we see them associated with other contact and collision sports such as soccer, lacrosse and hockey."

Whether a female soccer player "heading" a ball or colliding with another player or a wrestler suffering an injury during a takedown move, Dr. Thaker said that current guidelines do not differentiate between types or grades of concussion.

"Diagnosing a concussion can be challenging, as the most common symptoms, such as headaches, mood changes, dizziness and nausea, are often nonspecific, and symptoms may present several hours after the injury occurred."

Dr. Thaker, who grew up in the North suburbs of Chicago, was eager to tell parents what to expect if their athlete suffers a concussion. "Treatment is individualized based on symptom type and severity, but usually starts with a brief period of physical and cognitive rest, followed by a gradual symptom-limited return to activity. It's best to work with a qualified medical professional on the return-to-learn and return-to play

aspects of recovery," she said.

Adults need to be pro-active when it comes to their active children.

"Parents should ask coaches if they have completed training on concussion recognition and safety," Dr. Thaker guided. "Teen athletes should use proper technique when tackling in football, and younger athletes should consider delaying tackling in football or checking in hockey and lacrosse until older."

If concussion goes untreated, the ramifications may be serious. "There is a risk of further injury, prolonged recovery, or long-term brain injury when concussions go unrecognized and untreated," she said.

AMITA Health Sports Medicine Outreach Program offers a concierge line approach with a 24/7 resource to a clinician who can facilitate an expedited appointment to a concussion specialist. Email or call: (224) 273-2416 to access services.

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