Should a young athlete play after several concussions? Doctors differ

Updated 10/6/2017 2:12 PM

Should a young athlete return to the sport after several concussions?

Suburban doctors have differing opinions.


Dr. Erik Beltran, a Northshore University HealthSystem neurologist speaking at Fremd High School in Palatine in September, believes an athlete can play contact sports such as football after several concussions if neurological exams don't indicate problems.

Amita Health pediatric neurologist Dr. Hossam AbdelSalam has a different view.

"If a kid has three concussions in a two-year period, they should not be allowed to play contact sports again," AbdelSalam said. He cites recommendations from national neurological research groups, but acknowledges the absence of actual guidelines.

Football and rugby lead to the most concussions in high school boys, while soccer is the culprit for girls.

The question comes amid a

nationwide debate about football's ties to the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Former NFL stars Dave Duerson and Junior Seau are among those diagnosed with CTE after their deaths, raising concern for parents of younger athletes, as well.

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A less-dire picture emerged in April, when a study released at an American Academy of Neurology meeting in Boston showed former NFL players who had repeated head injuries might not have significant problems with motor functions later in life. The study involved 95 former players ages 40 to 69, compared to 25 men who were not in football.

Dr. Nathaniel Jones, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, said information being presented on CTE and football should be taken "with a grain of salt" and more study is needed. However, he said, "if you've had two or three concussions, you should strongly consider retiring from contact sports."

Deaths from brain and spinal cord injuries are rare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. From 2005 to 2014, 28 high school and college football players died of such causes.

Yet just last month, 19-year-old Robert Grays, a cornerback for Midwestern State University in Texas, died from a neck injury in a game.

Amid the concerns, Elizabeth Pieroth says she understands how it raises eyebrows that her son plays football.

"I get that all the time," said Pieroth, an associate director of the sports concussion program at Northshore University HealthSystem whose seventh-grader is a defensive tackle. "I say to people, 'I know my own son and I know the research very well, and I know that the coaches and the league are doing what they should be doing.'"

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