A Harris Poll survey conducted online in March 2017 on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association asked over 1,000 U.S. parents whether they allow or plan to allow their children to play sports given the risk of concussion—51 percent said yes, while 33 percent said it depends on the sport.
The remaining 16 percent of parents ruled out sports for their kids because of concussion risks.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. and the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is estimated to be as high as 19 percent per year of play.
Initial concussion symptoms include dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. In the long-term, concussions may cause negative emotional and cognitive changes.
The survey found 60 percent of parents who have allowed or plan to allow their child to play sports believe that the benefits —such as teamwork, self-esteem and fostering physical health—outweigh the risks of concussion. In that same group, 49 percent say there is protective equipment available to wear while participating in sports to prevent concussions.
Dave Baron, DO, MSEd, director of Global Center for Exercise, Psychiatry and Sport at the University of Southern California, offers advice for parents on the fence.
“The key is not avoiding sports altogether but getting involved with programs that take safety very seriously, have well-trained coaches and provide properly fitting safety gear, like helmets,” said Dr. Baron, an osteopathic psychiatrist. “There are socio-emotional aspects to sports and I encourage parents to consider all the risks and benefits, rather than focusing on a single risk.”
He also encourages parents to seek out programs that take precautions, like limiting full-contact practices, and teach good sportsmanship to minimize on-field aggression.
Dr. Baron cautioned that misinformation about concussions clouds decision-making and offered parents some critical facts.
- You don’t need to get knocked out or lose consciousness to have a concussion—nor do you need to get hit in the head.
- Depending on the severity, concussion symptoms can last from a week to a couple months or even a year. Players should avoid risking another concussion before the first is fully healed because concurring injuries can have lasting effects.
- High-intensity collision sports, like football and boxing, carry the same risks for kids and adolescents as they do for adult athletes.
Joelle Rehberg, DO, FAOASM, is medical director of the athletic training education program at William Paterson University, and works with youth concussions at Atlantic Neurosurgical Specialists in Morristown, New Jersey. An osteopathic sports medicine physician, Dr. Rehberg notes that while awareness of concussions has grown dramatically, parents, coaches, and even some doctors are not as educated about how to identify and treat them. As a result, concussion is often misdiagnosed in children.
“People don’t realize that how your brain responds to a hit can be greatly determined by several factors outside that particular impact. Having the proper amount of nutrition, hydration and rest can make the difference between a kid not being affected by a hit and able to play on, or sitting on the field, feeling dazed,” she explained.
While Dr. Rehberg encourages parents to allow children to play sports, she also advises balance for student athletes.
“Kids are in a critical period for physical, emotional and cognitive development. They need time to recover between games and practices, as well as time for family and academics. If they were allowed that, I think we’d see them become more resilient to the hazards of sports and we would see fewer injuries in general.”
If concussion is suspected, Dr. Rehberg says parents and coaches should have the athlete evaluated and monitored. Symptoms must completely subside before resuming full practice and competition.
For more information on preventing and recognizing concussions in youth sports: