Concussions & sports: Parents’ perspectives on a growing health concern

Following the suicide of former NFL star Junior Seau, there has been a flood of attention given to the impact of concussions and head injury on the long-term health of athletes. Concussions are not only a health concern for professional athletes. They also occur frequently in children and teenagers who play school sports.

The National Poll on Children’s Health has addressed the problem of concussions in school sports.  In 2010, only 8% of parents of athletes 12-17 years old had read or heard a lot about the risks of repeat concussions in school sports.  62% of parents knew of another parent who they thought would have their child return to school sports too soon after a concussion. Additionally, 84% of parents expressed strong support for a requirement that athletes be cleared by a doctor before returning to play after a concussion (see the full report: Concussions in school sports: parents ill-prepared for role in reducing kid’s risks).

Research has shown that youth athletes are more likely than adults to sustain concussions, and that they take longer to recover from concussion injuries (see recent article in the New York Times Well Blog: “Concussions May Be More Severe in Girls and Young Athletes”). If a repeat concussion occurs before a child’s brain recovers from the first, there is a higher chance of long-term neurologic effects. Those concerns add urgency to efforts to safeguard kids against initial and repeat concussions.

Because schools are facing budget challenges nationwide, it seems unlikely that athletic departments will be able to add medical staff who can monitor practices and competitions for concussion symptoms. That means that parents and coaches will need to work together to safeguard kids’ health by minimizing concussion risks—including the possibility of keeping athletes out of competition for extended periods of time until their concussion symptoms resolve, rather than rushing them back into action.