Adolescent Research: Update on Teen Athletes and Concussions

In recent years there has been a considerable focus on the dangers and consequences of concussions, particularly those associated with athletics. While much of the spotlight has fallen on professional sports and athletes, plenty of information has also been revealed about teen sports and concussions. A recently released study by data examiners at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of over 900,000 medical claims found that concussion diagnoses for patients between the ages of 10 and 19 rose by 71% from 2010 to 2015.

Two new studies published in 2017 have revealed several new findings:
• A longitudinal study among men who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 found that on average, there was no statistical or clinical harmful association between playing high school football and cognitive impairment or depression in later life. As most high school football athletes do not go on to play college or professional football, these findings may serve to alleviate some parents’ concerns over whether they should allow their kids to play high school football.
• A Canadian study has reported that for college athletes participating in high contact and collision sports, participants did show altered brain structure and function (via brain scans), but that participants did not report impairment in day-to-day functioning. The researchers remained concerned about the cumulative effects of repeated head impacts over time.

From other recent research, here are some of the findings when it comes to teens and concussions:

• Concussions are the most common injury among teen athletes.
• Teenage brains are particularly vulnerable to concussions.
• Teen athletes may hesitate to report concussion symptoms.
• Teen concussions increase risk for depression.
• Teenage concussions can produce negative effects on academic performance.
• Teenage concussions can result in persistent attention and memory problems for up to a year.
• Kids with a history of previous concussions take longer to recover.
• Second concussions can be devastating to teens.

What Can Parents Do?
• Parents should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of concussions (Google these!).
• If your teenager has suffered a concussion, seek medical attention right away.
• If your teenager has had a recent concussion, take the initiative to ensure that he/she takes the needed time to heal. Consult with your health provider and follow instructions for your teen’s recovery. Limiting exercise and activities that require concentration is typically part of the recovery process.
• Consult school officials to develop an appropriate plan before your teenager returns to school.
• Consult with coaches to develop an appropriate timetable for your teen’s safe and healthy reentry back into the sport.
• If the sport in which your teenager suffered a concussion is particularly prone to multiple concussions, by all means consider whether or not your teen should continue participating in the sport. Investigate the current state of available protective measures and the concussion protocols taken by coaches and team staff. Reevaluate the risks and rewards of participation. Be sure to include your teen in this process.
• Have a conversation with your teen about any previous concussion symptoms she or he may have had experienced in prior seasons or sports, and about the importance of reporting all concussion symptoms in the future.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family. Jim has over 30 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on Crosswalk.com and Religiontoday.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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