Pediatric concussion is a widely talked-about issue among the media, parents, school administrators, and youth sports leagues. With all the buzz surrounding concussion, it's easy to get lost.
Thankfully, new research is being published all the time on how to best treat concussion, how to prevent it, and the importance of children, parents, and coaches being educated on its causes, signs, and symptoms.
Here's what you need to know about pediatric concussion.
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Dr. Rebecca Garfinkle
1. Concussion is a treatable injury.
Concussion can be treated. With the right healthcare team, active rehabilitation strategies, and targeted treatment; children can recover from concussion.
You may have talked to people who reminisce on the glory days where they got their bell rung, couldn't remember their name, and got back into the game the next play. Thankfully, times have changed: athletic trainers and trained healthcare professionals are on the field to recognize concussion when it happens and keep your child safe.
Athletes that are removed from play immediately following a concussion are 5.93 times more likely to have an “easy” recovery from concussion (less than 3 weeks). Clinicians use objective data in conjunction with symptom reporting to measure the extent of the injury, and create individualized treatment plans that actively target deficits until the patient is back to normal. Most importantly, clinicians now have a variety of tools to use to get a full picture of the injury; no more relying just on an athlete saying “I feel better.”
If you’ve ever had a concussion, you were probably told to rest and wait it out. In the past, clinicians used the “dark room” approach, telling patients to rest until they felt better. The problem with that treatment is that patients didn’t feel better.
We know that strict rest is not effective in treating concussion. Instead, an active rehabilitation model that targets specific, unique problem areas has been much more effective. Clinicians combine symptoms, neurocognitive testing data, and vestibular/ocular testing to determine a patient’s clinical pathway and treatment plan.
It’s easier now for clinicians to create targeted, individual treatments for each unique injury. We know that concussion requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. When properly cared for, concussions are like any other sports injury: appropriate rehabilitation gets kids back to activity safely.
One tool that clinicians use for their pediatric concussion patients is ImPACT Pediatric: an FDA-cleared assessment tool for ages 5-11. It measures cognitive functioning of children in an game-like iPad test.
Schools and clinics use ImPACT Pediatric (and ImPACT for ages 12-59) to get baseline tests on students and athletes at the beginning of the year and follow up in case of a concussion. If you’re wondering if your child’s school uses ImPACT Pediatric or ImPACT, email firstname.lastname@example.org to request more information.
2. Schools, providers, and parents need to (and are starting to) work together to prevent and manage concussion.
Gone are the days when an athlete tells their coach they feel back to normal and get to play in the big game that weekend. Concussion is talked about more because healthcare professionals are better trained to recognize and treat the injury.
Healthcare providers from a host of disciplines are getting specific training on concussion care and working within a multi-disciplinary team. If your child gets a concussion, they’ll likely be treated by a team of clinicians well-equipped to help them get better. Most multi-disciplinary concussion care teams include at least the following:
- “Point Person”: the clinician managing the injury (Physician, neuropsychologist, etc.).
- Athletic Trainer: probably the person that kept your child safe on the sideline and recognized the injury.
- Physical Therapist: PTs are trained to help rehabilitate specific issues your child has after an injury.
- Optometrist / Occupational Therapist: helps with vision therapy and activities of active daily living.
- School Nurse: helps your child get back to class quickly, safely, and ensures the appropriate academic workload.
The medical community understands how important it is to keep children safe, and they’re teaming up to use their unique areas of expertise to make sure students get exactly what they need to get better after a concussion.
3. There are a multitude of legitimate resources online for parents to learn more.
How can you separate fact from fiction when it comes to concussion? Here are a couple resources to help get you started:
- The CDC HEADS UP program put together information specifically for parents and athletes. It provides a wealth of information on how to keep your loved ones safe, and how to spot a potential concussion.
- ImPACT Applications has curated resources specific to parents, too. You can find info on concussion signs and symptoms, return to activity forms, and an educational accommodations checklist for you to share with your school and athletic trainer. As your child’s care advocate, it’s extremely important that you’re getting research-backed, objective help.
- Who do you turn to when your loved one gets a concussion? If you don't have a trained concussion specialist in your area, we can help. Check out concussioncareproviders.com to find concussion assessment and rehabilitation specialists in your area.
Most importantly, do your research. Take the time to see where the claims come from, and be wary of sites and discussions that don't have evidence behind them.
As concussion research evolves and clinicians find better, more objective ways to treat the injury, we can find some peace of mind in encouraging our kids to play sports, stay active, and know that they'll be well take care of if an accident were to happen. As a parent, you can help keep your child safe by making them aware of the importance of reporting, and by educating yourself on how to recognize a concussion.