Many Young Athletes Return to Play After Concussion Despite Risk

Long-standing concussion guidelines discourage young athletes from returning to the game if they display any signs of concussion after an injury. A new study, however, shows that athletes between the ages of seven and 18 often return to play on the same day.

Researcher Shane M. Miller, M.D., FAAP, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Plano, Texas, noticed that a significant number of his patients had reported returning to play after experiencing a concussion before being cleared by a medical professional.

This practice is contrary to medical guidelines, state laws and educational efforts.

Miller and Meagan Sabatino, senior clinical research coordinator at the same hospital, analyzed records for 185 patients, ages seven to 18, treated for concussion at a Texas pediatric sports clinic during a 10-month period in 2014. Nearly half (47 percent) of the young athletes sustained a concussion while playing football; the next most common sport among concussion patients was soccer (16 percent).

Of these patients, 71 (38 percent) had returned to play on the same day as their initial injury. Athletes who immediately returned to play after their injury reported less severe symptoms of dizziness and balance problems immediately after being hurt.

However, by the time they were seen in the clinic, they were statistically more likely to report the presence and increased severity of nausea, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light and noise, feeling “slowed down,” pressure in the head, confusion and trouble with both concentrating and falling asleep.

“Our findings suggest that we still have work to do to change behaviors to protect short- and long-term brain health of youth athletes,” said Sabatino.

While the majority of the patients in the study were male (72 percent), the researchers said there were no statistical differences found in gender, age, presence of concussion symptoms on day of injury, sport, mechanism of injury or impact location between those who returned to play on the same day and those who did not. The researchers said this is the largest study to date looking at return to play patterns in young athletes with concussions.

Miller emphasized the continual need for better concussion education. “We need to emphasize the message, when in doubt, sit them out — and keep them out — until full recovery,” he said.

The research abstract was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2016 National Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics