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New Insights on Concussion Related to Child and Teen Athletes

Three recent studies offer new insights on concussion related to child and teen athletes. There is much discussion today about the danger of concussion for children and teens involved in sports. Although much of the discussion has focused on traditionally defined “contact sports,” these discussions increasingly include risks of playing other sports, as well. To this point, most of the discussion has centered in the medical and sports arenas. Discussions are evolvingConcussion in Child and Teen Athletes - Altizer Law PC also in the legal community due to the broad and long-term potential effects of concussion, especially in children.

New Insights in September 2017

Three different studies examining concussion announced their findings during September 2017.

  1. Research conducted at Boston University found that a specific chemical seems to be present in higher levels in people with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This chemical is called CCL 11. It is a form of a cytokine released when the body begins to heal or repair brain injuries. These are preliminary results, but they may mean that CTE can be diagnosed in living people by analyzing spinal fluid. Until now, it has been impossible to diagnose CTE prior to death.
  2. Another (separate) study conducted at Boston University discovered that children who play tackle football before age 12 had as much as twice the risk of developing behavioral problems and triple the risk of developing depression compared to other children. One of the authors of this study actually stated that children should not play football at all in order to reduce the risk of concussion and sub-concussive injuries, both of which have been connected with CTE.
  3. The third study was published in the official journal of the American Osteopathic Association during the first week of October. This research concluded that girls need twice as much time to recover from concussion as boys. They observed from the study of girls and boys aged 11 – 18 that 75 percent of the boys recovered in three weeks. Only 42 percent of the girls recovered in the same amount of time.

Thoughts for Parents

Physicians and athletic coaches are very clear that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ sport. Head injuries can be sustained in the normal play of any sport. Although football is the most commonly discussed sport carrying the risk of concussion for children, other “risky” sports include soccer, baseball, and hockey. Further, there is no clear understanding of how many concussive events can be endured without permanent brain damage.

If your child plays a sport, it is important to be alert for early symptoms of CTE, which are almost identical to those of traumatic brain injury (TBI). These symptoms include irritability, difficulty sleeping, depression, and sudden mood swings. These symptoms can progress to symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease or to suicidal thoughts.

In deciding if you will allow your child to play competitive sports, you will need to understand and weigh the risks and benefits of sports participation. Your decision might depend upon the sport in question. Sledding, snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding, and bicycling can also be dangerous. You will also want to know the latest recommendations for minimum age for participation in any sport, as well as the steps you can take to ensure your child is adequately protected. For example, U.S. Soccer now prohibits heading the ball in games played by children under the age of 10 and limits the use of the head for all players under the age of 13.

Your child’s coach should provide information to players and to their parents about their compliance with safety recommendations for each sport. They should also be able to explain their steps to protect players from concussion. They should also insist than a child suspected of a concussion or diagnosed with a concussion refrain from playing for the recommended recovery time.

If you would like to know more about recognition and management of concussion in child athletes, you might wish to review the recommendations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) found here:

Bennett Omalu, the physician who identified CTE says that there are six sports that no child under the age of 18 should ever play. These are:

  • Football
  • Boxing
  • Ice Hockey
  • Mixed Martial Arts
  • Wrestling
  • Ruby

The legal, athletic and medical communities will undoubtedly work to provide guidance for schools, coaches and parents regarding risks of concussion to children playing sports. As this guidance evolves, we can also expect the courts and, possibly, our legislators to define related questions of responsibility and liability when children sustain concussions playing sports.

The attorneys of Altizer Law, P.C., have been aggressive advocates for their clients in all types of cases involving brain injury. We have the specialized knowledge, experience, and compassion to fight relentlessly for any child who sustains a head injury or concussion through no fault of their own. Bettina and Terri will be carefully monitoring all developments in medicine and law related to child and teen concussions due to sports participation. If your child has sustained a concussion or other head injury due to the negligence of another, we encourage you to come in and talk with us. We are here to help you and to help your child.

For more about Dr. Omalu’s comments regarding children and sports, you may wish to read this article: