Preventing and Treating Head Injuries in Adolescents

teen wearing a helmet

With the start of fall comes the beginning of school, and for some kids, it means fall sports are finally back in session. Preparing for any athletic activity typically involves having the right gear and the proper attire, but what can often be overlooked is the information adults can prepare themselves with to help prevent a sport-related head injury.

This August is Neurosurgery Awareness Month, and its focus this year is to shine a light on the prevention and treatment of head injuries in children. Living with a neurological condition can be life changing, and while head injuries can be caused by more than just sports, an estimated 446,788 sport-related head injuries were treated in 2009. Some sports and recreational activities yield a higher estimated percentage of head injuries annually with the most being caused by cycling (85,389), football (46,948), baseball/softball (38,394), and basketball (34,692).

There are a few ways adults and children can help prevent head injuries when participating in activities and sports. Helmets approved by the ASTM undergo vigorous testing for many sports and should be used at all times. When buying a helmet, look for the ASTM sticker and purchase a helmet style that fits properly. Supervise younger children at all times and do not let them use sporting equipment or play sports unsuitable for their age. Do not let children wear clothing that can interfere with vision, and do not let children participate in sports when ill or very tired. Perform regular safety checks of sports fields, playgrounds and equipment, and discard and replace sporting equipment or protective gear that is damaged.

In addition to doing things that may help prevent a head injury, being prepared in the event that a child does sustain a head trauma is just as important. If a child has experienced trauma to their head in any sport or activity, it’s important to remove the child from play immediately.  Children who are removed from play immediately following a concussion are much more likely to recover in less than three weeks. Dr. Viviane Ugalde, concussion expert and physician at The Center, stresses the importance of seeking immediate care for a head injury. “Most people recover from concussions in a few days or weeks, but some people will have symptoms that will last for much longer and can turn their life upside down, whether at school, at work, or in relationships. It’s important to understand and seek care for those concussion symptoms so you can get care that will help you manage those symptoms and return to everyday life.”

If you suspect that your child has a concussion, you should take the following steps:

  1. Ensure that the child is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion. Do not try to judge the seriousness of the injury yourself.
  2. A child with a concussion may be evaluated by their primary care physician.
  3. Keep the child out of activity the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says the child is symptom-free and it’s OK to return to regular activities.

For more information on concussions, visit the Concussion Center, or watch this Understanding Concussions video.