The Alarming Truth Behind Sports Head Injuries

August 25, 2022
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While back to school is only a few weeks away, fall sports in Connecticut are already in full swing. Schools and sports clubs across the state are starting training camps and practices to prepare for the upcoming season. Sadly, this also means an uptick of school-related sports injuries is just around the corner, and parents should start preparing for how to protect their children.

Traumatic brain injuries are one of the most severe and life-altering sports injuries parents need to be aware of. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) reports an estimated 1.7 to 3.8 million traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) nationwide every year, and 10% of these result from sports injuries. 

TBIs can range in severity– minor to catastrophic– but all pose a risk of causing damage to the brain that could interfere with healthy brain development. Here are the facts parents need to know about TBIs, the most common causes related to sports, and how you can help prevent these life-threatening injuries this school year. 

Facts About TBIs

The AANS defines TBI as a form of acquired brain injury that results from a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. 

While the current classification system for TBIs relies on a scale of mild, moderate, or severe, these classifications misrepresent the severity of these injuries, especially in children. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), even mild TBIs can lead to health consequences that can cause impairment and lack of functioning. This is particularly true when more than one mild TBI occurs or a child returns to a sport too soon after an injury. 

The symptoms of TBIs are unique to each injury and will present in different ways depending on the accident's severity and the person's age. In children, signs of a brain injury can be entirely different from how TBIs present in adults. The NINDS advises parents to look out for the following symptoms that could be signs of a TBI: 

  • Irritability, crankiness, persistent crying 
  • Changes in eating/drinking/nursing habits 
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities
  • Seizures 
  • Trouble sleeping or trouble waking 
  • Depression
  • Vomiting 
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Trouble with balance

Other signs to ask about and look for in older children include blurred vision, memory loss, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to lights or sound, behavioral changes in school, increased anxiety, fatigue, and confusion. You can find additional symptoms of TBI on the NINDS website.

Sports With the Highest Rate of TBIs

TBIs can occur during any physical activity (sports-related or not), but some sports have higher rates of head injuries than others. The top 10 sports with the highest prevalence of TBIs across all ages include: 

  1. Cycling 
  2. Football 
  3. Baseball and Softball
  4. Basketball 
  5. Powered Recreational Vehicles (go-karts, ATCs, dune buggies, etc.) 
  6. Soccer 
  7. Skateboards 
  8. Workout Routines (exercise equipment) 
  9. Horseback Riding 
  10. Golf 

For children ages 14 and younger, the top 10 sports differ slightly and include other physical activities common for these ages, such as: 

  1. Playground Equipment  
  2. Football 
  3. Basketball 
  4. Cycling
  5. Baseball and Softball 
  6. Soccer 
  7. Swimming 
  8. Trampolines 
  9. Powered Recreational Vehicles 
  10. Skateboards 

The Myth About Concussions and TBIs

For decades, concussions were a mild form of TBI, common in both contact and non-contact sports. However, after extensive research into the degenerative brain conditions of NFL football players after years of repetitive brain injuries, concussions are finally being seen as the severe injury they are. 

A sports-related concussion often results from a direct blow to the head, neck, face, or another body part where the force is strong enough to impact the brain. The AANA reports that while only classified as a minor head injury, a concussion can result in short-term impairments that can worsen over time with repeat injury, “brain shaking,” functional disturbances, and a range of other behavioral consequences not often connected with brain injuries. 

Teens are especially susceptible to concussions and display TBI symptoms that can be overlooked. High school athletes who suffer from brain injuries and display symptoms such as headaches or behavioral changes in school have been misclassified in the past as displaying typical “bad teen behavior” when showing signs of a brain injury. It’s essential to listen to your teen athletes and understand the range of symptoms TBIs can cause to seek treatment for your children as soon as possible.

How To Prevent TBIs

The most effective step you can take to prevent your student-athletes from sustaining a TBI is to stay informed and involved. You may not always be present for practices, especially if your child is older, but knowing the general safety steps that can help prevent TBIs from occurring and talking about these steps with your child can significantly reduce their risk. 

General tips for reducing incidents of TBI from the AANA include: 

  • Ensure your child has appropriate equipment in good working condition. 
  • Fit-test your child for helmets and headgear to minimize space for rattling. 
  • Purchase appropriate clothing for your child to prevent tripping. 
  • Check your child’s headgear and eye protection for scratches and blurriness that can interfere with vision. 
  • Keep your child home from sports when sick or tired. 
  • Avoid uneven pavement and review local traffic laws with young riders.
  • Inspect sports fields and facilities concerning equipment or structures that could pose injury. 
  • Discourage your children from aggressive play in place of competitive behaviors. 

Get Involved With the School 

The role of coaches and athletic trainers is to help your children grow and reach their athletic potential. In addition, these professionals agree to keep your children safe, which means planning and following school safety policies to reduce injuries. 

If you’re unsure what type of safety policies your school follows, you have the right to find out. Here are some suggested questions of interest proposed by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) to help you gain insight into your school's athletic program: 

  • What are the program's injury prevention strategies?
  • Who will provide care when an athlete is injured, and what credentials do they have?
  • Does the program have an emergency action plan? 
  • What type of condition is the equipment in? 
  • What is the policy for replacing unsafe equipment?
  • Is there an AED available, and is staff trained to use it? 
  • What qualifications do the coaches have? 
  • Is there a cleaning and maintenance schedule for the locker rooms? If so, what is it?
  • What support is given to maintain positive physical and mental health preparation?
  • What is the school’s heat policy on days with extreme temperatures? 

Sports-related head injuries can occur accidentally, but many are preventable with proper supervision and care. When children sustain a traumatic brain injury due to safety oversights or negligence by a coach or other athletic official, the consequences of the damage are even harder to endure.

Jacobs & Wallace Connecticut Accident Attorneys

If you or someone you love is injured, you need an experienced law firm to represent you. Jacobs & Wallace, PLLC, has decades of experience fighting for the rights of Connecticut’s injured victims. Please contact us today for a FREE case evaluation: 203-332-7700.

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