According to a study published Monday in the pediatrics journal, 502,000 children and teens visited emergency departments for concussions between 2001 and 2005. Roughly half of those visits were for concussions related to sports and other recreational activities. This figure represents a greater than 100% increase for the 5 year period leading up to 2005.
In light of the fact that Children, like athletes in general are bigger, stronger, and faster than a decade ago and the increased awareness placed on concussions, this figure is not that surprising.
What is surprising is that much of the increase came from from middle-schoolers and even elementary school students who have flocked to play on elite travel teams and in competitive youth leagues across the country. The study found that 40% of the sports-related pediatric concussion patients seen in ERs were between the ages of 8 and 13. All this while participation in organized sports was declining.
So why are concussions soaring? The American Academy of Pediatrics updated “clinical report” underscores growing evidence that younger children’s brains are not only more susceptible to injury, but those injuries may take longer to heal and can be more damaging than concussions in adolescents or adults.
A 2007 estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested children and adults sustain as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions a year in the United States. But “data are significantly lacking about concussions in grade-school and middle-school athletes, which highlights the need for more research,” wrote Drs. Mark E. Halstead and Kevin E. Walter on behalf of the academy’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Giza said Pediatrics’ review of clinical findings on concussions will help forge consensus among coaches, parents and physicians about what to do when a child is dazed after a rough tackle or knocks heads hard with a teammate in a lunge for the ball.
“There’s sort of an old-school notion that a kid gets his or her bell rung and toughs it out and keeps participating and bounces back,” Giza said. But with evidence piling up that concussions are especially dangerous for younger kids, coaches should take “a more conservative approach,” he said.
The Rhode Island researchers added that parents, coaches and physicians need better guidelines for recognizing brain trauma in younger kids, determining when and how long to sideline them and finding ways to protect them from long-term harm.
In May 2009, the state of Washington was the first to pass legislation requiring that any student-athlete suspected of having a concussion be removed from the game and not return to play until cleared by a licensed medical professional. Several states, including California, have since adopted similar laws.
From a legal standpoint “head injuries” while participating in organized sports raise a number of issues.
First and foremost did the coach and/or team trainer recognize the injury? If the signs were obvious and the coach missed those signs and allowed the child to play, the results can be deadly. In fact, the Washington law was passed in direct response to a young child who died while playing through a concussion.
The second issue is whether the Emergency Room doctor properly diagnosis the concussion or head injury. This is done with both a physical exam and diagnostic studies such as CT Scans and MRI’s. Again, If a doctor misses the diagnosis the results can be fatal.
Those of us that watch The National Football League on Sundays, are accustomed to watching an organized medical team respond to an injured player on the field. This is something we take for granted, and unfortunately not always the case.
As a Miami Personal Injury Lawyer I have reviewed multiple where more severe injuries could and should have been prevented. A case that I am currently working on involves the unfortunate death of a semi-professional athlete. In that case neither the league nor team he was playing for had any written guidelines/protocols in place treating a serious injury. Thus, a serious injury, became an unnecessary, deadly injury.