Got kids that play sports? Learn about concussions

It was bitterly cold last night as my wife and I sat in the stands to watch my son's varsity lacrosse game against the cross-town team. Many of these kids had competed on the same junior league teams growing up and as a result there is a fierce competition when they play against one another. Pride was on the line and the hitting was hard, the emotions high.

It was late in the third quarter and my son, a 17 year old mid-fielder, was racing to pick up a loose ball. He saw an opponent angling for the ball and had the advantage on him but didn't see a second one racing in from a sharp angle. Just as he bent over to scoop up the ball the unseen player tried to check my son in the shoulder to knock him off balance but missed and struck him hard on the left side of his helmet with his stick. The ref did not see the blow and play continued.

My son rolled on the ground and popped right back up but didn't look quite right. He stayed in the game but from the stands we could see that he was not running very well. He also was crouching over a bit once he was positioned. I thought maybe he had gotten the wind knocked out of him.

He stayed in for another minute or so as the ball moved the length of the field then came out when the next mid-field line came in. As we sat up in the stands we were wondered if our son was okay because he didn't return to the game.

The Late Night Phone Call
The game ran late and we were home waiting for my son to get back from the school in his own car. The phone rang and it was one of his coaches, telling us that my son had apparently suffered a concussion and that they did not want him to drive himself home. The athletic trainers and coaches at our school are outstanding and followed all the right procedures in ensuring that my son was being monitored properly.

When I got to the school my son looked fine, though he was not his usual self. He normally has an easy smile but his look was very serious as he described what happened when the opposing player struck his helmet. First he said he heard an incredibly loud roar, as though a peal of thunder was going off inside his helmet. He also immediately began to see swirling images in his right eye. He felt dazed and had a pretty bad headache though he had never blacked out.

The school's athletic trainer recommended that we take him to a doctor either now or first thing in the morning (it was now nearly 10pm). Having experienced concussions before with him my concern got the better of me and I drove him to our local hospital. The ER doctor examined him pretty quickly and since his headache seemed to be getting worse ordered a CT Scan for him. They generally are looking for internal bleeding and the CT Scan is a good tool for determining if they need to conduct emergency surgery to relieve pressure from building on the patient's brain. Fortunately his scan came back clean; no obvious damage.

The ER doctor told me to check on him every 3 hours for the next day, waking him up to see if he was still lucid and that the pain was not getting worse, a sign they may have missed something on the CT Scan.

Later that morning I took him to his regular doctor. By 10am he was actually feeling pretty good; there was no headache unless he shook his head quickly (Don't do that son!). The doctor told him that he needed to stop all physical exertion until all of the signs of the concussion had gone away completely and then from that point we would wait another week before he would be eligible to play again.

All things considered, this went about as well as it can go for a concussion. The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I'm hoping that if you have kids of your own and they play sports or even have a highly active life that includes bumps and bruises you take a couple of minutes and learn about concussions and their treatment.

The Way Things Were
My own athletic adventures as a kid were usually punctuated by phrases like "Rub some dirt in it" and "Come on kid, you're ok, toughen up". It was just the way things were. Even now you see TV shows and movies where someone will knock a person out with a quick blow to the back of the skull. The victim will then magically awake later, rub the back of their head for a second and then move on as though nothing happened.

Take this perspective into the modern age of high school sports. Many kids on successful varsity programs train nearly year round, attending camps, playing in tournaments or participating in off-season workout programs. Throw in a dose of parents with competitive backgrounds that want to see their kids succeed and many kids and parents will push hard to keep their kid in the game.

What's Really Happening
What's actually happening inside the skull during a concussion is that the brain is twisting, creating torque that can lead to unconsciousness. In addition the brain can bump against the inside of the skull and cause bruises to the brain itself. The CDC estimates that this happens nearly 3.8 million times a year in the US for sports and recreation activities.

It's critical that as a parent you be able to separate yourself from the desire to see your son or daughter keep playing the sport they love so much and ensure that if they did get a concussion that you get involved. Read through some of the excellent materials the CDC provides on detecting concussions and if you are in doubt take your child to a doctor immediately.

Sounds a little over-cautious? Perhaps. Of course there is the story of little Morgan McCraken, whose parents got her to the hospital just in time to save her life. Then there's the story of High School football player Max Conradt's multiple concussions and what happened to his life.

My goal is not to frighten you as a parent about yet another thing that can harm your child. Instead my hope is that you'll take a couple of minutes and learn what to look for if your child suffers a head injury. Serious injury is very easy to prevent if you know what to look for and that knowledge is critical if your child plays a contact sport.


Chris Howard said…
I was sure you'd mention the terrible tragedy of Natasha Richardson.

You can never be too careful over a knock to the head.

Thanks for the reminder.
Keleko said…
I'm glad your son is doing ok. Teenagers especially think they're invincible, so hopefully he'll get the message that he isn't.

So far my kids have not gotten into full contact sports, though ballet can have its share of injuries.
Anonymous said…
Hi David & Chris,
The story of Natasha Richardson is here:

and THANKS for such a well written post on the importance of head injuries!
David Alison said…
Thanks Jacki - I didn't mention Natasha Richardson directly because she figures so prominently in Morgan McCraken's story.

Having been deeply involved in youth sports for many years I can tell you that the majority of parents have no idea what to do if their child gets a concussion. I've seen kids that were knocked out briefly (like my son did playing football a couple years ago) and return to full contact in just a couple of days.

Only recently have professional athletes begun to be monitored closely when they get a concussion. It happens at the college and high school level too, though with diminishing resources as the kids get younger.

By the time you get to youth sports you are generally at the mercy of a volunteer coach that may not really understand concussions and is usually trying to manage a game at the same time.

Ultimately it's up to the parents to closely monitor their kids for something that can often be hard to detect.
Kevin Mayo said…
David - So glad you decided to drive to ER. How many parents think the kids will be okay -- only to introduce tragedy into their lives. Scary.

I'm glad Davey is doing well.
Mike D. said…
Having worked in sports centers for the last 15 years, I ahve seen many head injuries.

Great job for the coaching staff who recognized the problem.

Also, it's a good thing your son displayed symtoms right away, many head injuries go un-noticed because the swelling and/or hemorraging can take time develop and display anysymtims at all (Natasha Richardson).

Hope he's back on the field soon.
Chester said…
David that's crazy. I have a random question for you. Did you use picturesque to make the post photo? If you did, did you happen to get it as part of MacHeist's bundle?

Just wondering. I'm glad everything worked out!
David Alison said…
@Chester: Yes and yes! First time I dove into MacHeist. I was going to start blogging about some of the apps I got from it. Picturesque is my current favorite, the World of Goo is entirely too much fun.
Chester said…
David, I have to agree completely. I though this year's bundle was a wonderful package with many wonderful applications. World of Goo is a phenomenal game. I like Acorn as a picture editor, even though pictureque is much easier to use. I like SousChef as well because it really brings home the cooking. Oh, and I had WireTap Pro and loved it so I'm super excited to have WireTap Studio.
Eytan said…
David, funny you should mention this now...

I had my iPhone stolen from me on the bus in Seattle a week and a half ago. The thieves ran off the bus (out the back door, which was SUPPOSED to be closed) and I could not hold myself back, and ran after them. Needless to say, a middle aged man should not be running after 4 high school aged kids at 1:30 in the morning.

Well, when I confronted them, one of them bashed me in the face with a skateboard. As I fell down, fortunately not losing consciousness, I could hear them say "Quick, let's get his money". Fortunately, my rising to my feet scared them away.
A few minutes later, after I was able to flag down police and was headed to the hospital, the mantra of "Don't forget Natasha Richardson" was repeated ad nauseam. The hospital did not perform a CT scan and sent me home.

Sunday, the bruise on my forehead became a black eye as well, as dizziness and headaches would not leave. Monday it was two black eyes, and I could not stand without the world spinning. With encouragement from all of my friends, I went and got a CT scan on Monday, which found I was on the mend, and while Tuesday I was worse still, by Wednesday I was on the mend and this past Sunday was my 1st day without a headache.

I took a few things from this...
For one, be VERY careful with your iPhone out in public. For another, do not run after thieves... But of all of these, the most important lesson I took is that something that seems like a bruise may be more. My concussion could have been way worse had I not dealt with it when I did, and that going to get a CT scan should be something you do when that happens.

Sadly, until we get universal health care, there will be many people sitting by the sidelines not able to pay the exorbitant costs of CT scans. Unfortunately, some timely tests could save lots of pain and headaches in the future...

Thanks for reading!
And I hope your son is all better :)
I am picking up a new iPhone on the way home from work today. I could not even wait until the new ones come out. Once you have tasted iPhone, it is hard to do without....
David Alison said…
@Eytan: Wow man, I am really sorry to hear about the theft and more importantly the assault on you. Very scary stuff. I do agree that until we have universal health care a significant number of people will simply hope that they are going to be ok.

I'm really surprised given the symptoms you had that they didn't run a CT Scan right away at the hospital.

My son Davey is doing great now, no symptoms at all. He wants to be back out on the lacrosse field right now but we're holding him back for at least another week. The bigger issue is that if he does get another concussion (which would be his fourth) I may not allow him to play lacrosse any longer. I'm just hoping it doesn't come to that.
Sarah said…
Head injuries in sports are a very serious matter. Thank you for drawing attention to this in your blog.

One suggestion for players who play sports that do not have mandatory head protection is the Forcefield Protective Headband.

Its a sports headband with padding inside that absorbs impact and perspiration,

We have to start addressing these sports issues. These young players need protection for their heads!
Anonymous said…

The latest research peer reviewed by the Academy of Sports Dentistry and a Harvard MGH specialist, suggests a retainer like Mouth guard used in the NFL and with such programs as the University of Texas, should be considered as part of a return to play protocol. One concussion and your six times more likely to have another, this protocol identifies and corrects a known link to the concussion origin.
Great article, I think that we all hope that nothing happens to our kids when they play. Thanks.
Its really important to know these types of situations so that you would know what to do when something like that happens. Thanks.

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