Six Tips for Injury Prevention in High School Athletes

Back to school means back to high school sports for a large number of students.  For many, practice and training starts before the first day of school.  Athletics provides many benefits to students beyond just physical activity.  However, those benefits carry with them some risks about which parents and students should be aware.

Concussions don’t just happen in football

Cheerleading, basketball, soccer, among others are sports in which concussions are not rare.  Concussions can cause memory loss to young people and lead to neurological disorders latter in life.  All schools should have a policy dealing with concussions and play.  Check your child’s school policy and make sure your child’s coach is aware and following it.  Check the CDC website for more detailed information about policy for injury and prevention.

Inadequate or improper conditioning can lead to injury

Strains, sprains, tendonitis can all be caused by not being properly conditioned or warmed up.  Talk to your child.  Ask her what they do for training and warm-up.

Almost every sport requires some type of safety equipment or gear

Helmets in football immediately come to mind for many, but cheerleading, gymnastics, soccer, and more have equipment that must be properly used in practice as well as competition.  Over half of the organized sports injuries occur during practice.

Is your child’s coach properly trained for that particular sport?

It is no secret that many public schools are short staffed.  Schools look for faculty that can coach and teach.  However, it is very important that they have been trained in the safety aspects of the sport.  A teacher that knows sideline, but not competition cheerleading, may not understand proper spotting and catching techniques.  Cheerleaders are thrown many feet in the air, doing multiple flips over a hard gym floor.  It is imperative the coach knows how to instruct the others to proper throw and catch her.

If your child has a pre-existing medical condition, make sure the coach knows about it

Of coarse, your child should receive a physical exam from a doctor that determines whether he is fit to play.  There are medical conditions that would not prohibit participation, but might require some accommodations.  Let your child’s coach know what problems could arise and how to address them.  If the coach is not receptive, take your concerns to the administration.  Children with type 1 diabetes, asthma, or sick-cell trait may be particularly susceptible to heat, for example.

Remind your student athlete to drink plenty of water

Dehydration can really sneak up on a child or teen who is focused on her sport. Approximately 8,000 children per day are treated in ER’s for sports related injuries.  Most are relatively minor, but some are catastrophic.  Keeping yourself informed about your child’s training, their coaches’ practices and experience, as well as the schools policies regarding injury prevention and treatment can help reduce the chances of injury.

Sustaining Serious Head and Brain Injuries in Sports

Memory loss, headaches, and confusion are just some of the symptoms of concussions. Concussions are injuries to the brain that can cause temporary loss of normal brain function.

The human brain is made of soft tissue and is protected by the skull, but when the skull sustains a hard blow or fast impact, it can cause serious harm to the brain. This can cause potential tearing of blood vessels, bruising of brain tissue, and pulling of nerve fibers. Contusions and hematomas, a blood clot that collects in or around the brain, can also occur. Swelling of the brain is a serious issue because the brain cannot escape the skull, and severe swelling can compress the brain and its blood vessels, thus limiting the flow of blood to the brain. Strokes can arise from lack of oxygen and necessary sugars in the brain. Severe, even fatal, brain injuries can occur if proper treatment isn’t received after enduring a concussion. Second Impact Syndrome is acute, fatal brain swelling. It occurs when the head sustains a hard blow after a previous concussion did not completely heal. This in turn causes the brain to swell rapidly, which is very hard or impossible to control. Second Impact Syndrome occurs most in contact sports such as boxing, football, ice or roller hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball, and snow skiing. An average of 1.5 deaths per year result from sports related concussions, and in most cases a concussion that went undiagnosed had previously occurred.

Signs of a concussion

  •  Amnesia
  •  Confusion
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Balance problems
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Feeling unusually irritable

Warning signs of serious brain injury

  •  Constant or reoccurring headaches
  • Inability to control motor functions, trouble with balance
  • Hypersensitivity to light or sound, inability to hear, taste or see
  • Dizziness
  • Easily distracted, trouble concentrating, feeling disoriented
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech, trouble finding “right” word, difficulty expressing words or feelings

The Return to Play Laws require an athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion to sit out of the game, “When in doubt, sit them out”. Under most  “return to play” laws if an athlete is suspected of having sustained a concussion, the athlete must be evaluated and cleared by a practicing health professional before returning to practice or competition. This law or laws with similar principles have been passed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Unfortunately, there are many young players who are still put at risk by coaches and teams who do not follow the laws. Those who are responsible for the safety and well-being of athletes should be prepared to help in any case of a concussion or head related injury. Recognizing the symptoms and signs of injuries due to sudden impact is part of coach’s training. Failure to recognize or treat injuries or ignoring the symptoms is negligent and dangerous to athletes. Taking safety precautions, such as wearing American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approved helmets or headgear, using a mouth guard and using proper tackling or checking techniques in contact sports, could reduce the chance of suffering a concussion. Never let your child use old or damaged equipment. If you or your child has suffered a concussion in an organized sport, you have the right to seek legal council.