Concussions in Youth Athletes

November 8, 2017

With National Football League concussions more frequent than ever, the league’s rulings for proper protocol could not have come much sooner.  Protocol carefully monitors, over a period of time, a player’s possible return to the field when concussion symptoms have subsided. Similar programs apply to all high school and college athletes engaged in contact sports.

Concussions, in simple terms, are bruises to the brain. The American Association of Neurology defines them as “a trauma-induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve loss of consciousness.” Over 3.8 million concussions occur every year involving contact sports (football, soccer, lacrosse, etc.) together with accidents from slipping, falling, and striking one’s head. Immediate symptoms include gazing, slurred speech, decreased attention, incoordination/clumsiness, disorientation, impaired memory, nausea/dizziness, vomiting, headaches and irritability.

Many of those affected by concussions will be involved in a multi-level medical management. This ranges from coaches and athletic trainers to emergency department personnel/Internal Medicine doctors to neurologist or concussion specialists. AZ concussion is diagnosed by symptoms and possible MFI or VCT Scan.  An ImPact test may be done to determine areas of deficit. An ImPact test may be administered for a baseline measurement beginning at age 10 and used as a reference for athletes in sports that are at high risk for concussions.  Physical Therapists are well qualified practitioners and a vital part of concussion management.

Two major issues after a concussion include headaches and balance dysfunction. Headaches may occur in response to over stimulating environments with bright lights or excessive noise.  Other areas that may be affected are reaction time, performing multiple set activities, attention span, and memory. Some symptoms may last longer than 7-10 days, at which point further intervention may be required.

Many of these effects are associated with the vestibular system. The vestibular system is an intricate organization of sensory input from inner ears, and contributes to the body’s awareness of where it is in space. After a concussion, the vestibular system may be affected in a way that requires specific rehabilitation. Individualized treatments may include visual or occulomotor exercises, balance challenges, as well as neck range of motion and stretching. Sport specific exercises as well as coordination and cardiovascular endurance are incorporated as the person affected progresses, while having symptoms monitored continuously. Athletes follow a specific Return to Play protocol designed to prevent further complications from concussions.  Rest and sleep are also critical to helping the brain.

Lindsay Richard DPT/CAP is a therapist in Amity Physical Therapy’s Hamden office. Richard, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, received her doctorate degree from Sacred Heart University. Her experience includes orthopedics in Fairfield County, clinical rotations at Madison House in Madison CT, with similar clinical assignments at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Bridgeport Hospital Burn Unit, and Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation. Lindsay can be reached for consultation at (203) 691-6248.