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Reducing concussion risk for student athletes

Concussion concerns shouldn't keep parents from allowing their kids to play sports, experts say

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Usually, it's a child’s interest in a particular sport that determines whether or not he or she plays it. But some aspiring athletes may be kept off the field, court, or diamond if their parents fear that they will suffer a concussion, a new survey finds.

Concussion concerns loom large enough for 16% of parents to rule out sports for their kids altogether, according to a poll commissioned by the American Osteopathic Association. One-third of respondents (33%) said their decision on whether or not to allow their kids to play sports would “depend on the sport.”

But avoiding sports altogether isn't the only way to reduce the risk for concussion, says Dr. Dave Baron, an osteopathic psychiatrist and director of the Global Center for Exercise, Psychiatry and Sport at the University of Southern California.

Seek out safe programs

Parents can preserve their peace of mind while still allowing their children to reap the socio-emotional benefits of sports by finding programs that take certain safety precautions.

Instead of focusing on the risk for concussion, parents should “focus on getting involved with programs that take safety seriously, have well-trained coaches, and provide properly fitting safety gear like helmets,” says Baron.

He also recommends seeking out programs that limit full-contact practices and teach good sportsmanship to minimize on-field aggression.

Strike a balance

Dr. Joelle Rehberg, medical director of the athletic training education program at William Paterson University, also encourages parents to allow children to play sports but advises balance for student athletes.

"Kids are in a critical period for physical, emotional and cognitive development,” said Rehberg. “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,” she added.

Treating concussion

Sports do carry the risk for concussion. In fact, the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is estimated to be as high as 19% per year of play.

If concussion is suspected, Dr. Rehberg has the following advice for parents and coaches:

  • Have the child evaluated by a medical professional.
  • Allow symptoms to subside completely before resuming full practice and competition. Sometimes, just a few days of inactivity is all that’s needed.
  • Let them eat, drink, and rest.
  • Keep the house quiet and the lights dim.
  • Once they seem back to normal, give them another 24-48 hours before resuming their normal day-to-day activities.

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