Illinois Sports Injury Law: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing Concussion Injuries in Young Athletes

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 170,000 sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are suffered by children and adolescents each year. This is believed to be a conservative estimate since many brain injuries go unnoticed or unreported, in part because people do not recognize the symptoms. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other groups, only 1 in 6 concussions are diagnosed.

Concussions can occur in any sport or recreational activity, and concussions currently represent 8.9% of all high school sports injuries (rates being highest in football and soccer). It is important for parents, coaches, and athletes to understand the symptoms of a concussion, and take steps to prevent concussion injuries. After minimizing the effects of head injuries for decades, sports culture is slowly changing. New research has shown that concussions can be very dangerous to long-term brain health, and have been linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. Because concussion injuries cannot plainly be seen, players are often encouraged, if not pressured, to play through being rattled or having their bull rung. With a new body of research, we now know that ignoring concussion symptoms can result in serious consequences.

What is a concussion? A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump or blow to the head. Sudden acceleration or deceleration (movement back and forth) of the head can also cause a concussion. Drivers that suffer from whiplash in a car accident, or athletes that experience a collision on the field, are at risk for a concussion from the forces of acceleration or deceleration. It is fairly common for a driver to suffer whiplash and a concurrent concussion in a motor vehicle accident. Similarly, athletes who suffer a sudden blow to the head will commonly experience the symptoms of a concussion.

What are the symptoms of a concussion? There are several symptoms that indicate someone may have a concussion. Someone suffering a concussion may experience: confusion, forgetfulness, dizziness, moodiness or behavioral changes, or memory loss, either before or after the injury occurred; and headaches, nausea, or double vision. Loss of consciousness, may, but does not always occur. Studies have shown that fewer than 10% of concussions result in a loss of consciousness.

What should I do if I suspect my child has suffered a concussion? If you believe your child has suffered a concussion, immediately remove the child from any physical or athletic activity, as additional trauma can significantly delay the child’s recovery and may increase the chances of long-term damage. Studies have shown that athletes sustaining recurring concussions took longer to recover and reported more frequent losses of consciousness. Seek medical attention immediately–do not rely on your own assessment of the injury, and be prepared to inform your doctor of all pertinent details such as the cause of the injury, any loss of consciousness and the duration, and any other resulting symptoms. Once your child is discharged from medical facility, remember to monitor your child regularly; once or twice each evening is usually sufficient. With proper treatment, most concussions do not have any long-lasting consequences.

How can organizations protect athletes who are vulnerable to concussions? Any teacher, coach, or parent can take measures to prevent future concussions among young athletes by creating, adhering to, and promoting a concussion policy with a brief description of concussions, its symptoms and treatments, and standards for when sufferers are allowed to safely return to play.

Because concussive symptoms are not always obvious to the observer, the athletes themselves will benefit from such a plan and should be encouraged to immediately report concerns to parents or coaching staff. Sports staff members should also be made aware of any young athletes who have previously suffered or who may be predisposed to concussions, so that they are closely monitored. The National Football League (NFL) and Chicago Concussion Coalition, recognizing the need for concussion awareness and education, recently enlisted ten of its former players to help spread the message to young athletes in the Chicago area.

A concussion can be a very severe sports injury. In some instances, an injured athlete may have a legal claim and a right to compensation. If you or your child has suffered a serious sports injury, contact sports injury lawyers at John J. Malm & Associates right away.