Most people have seen the headlines about concussions as a common sports injury, and it's natural that parents may be concerned for their young athlete. A large misconception in sports is that previous concussions are to be blamed for ongoing headaches, blurred visions and memory loss, among other symptoms.
“It’s really important to think about concussions in concert with overall brain health,” says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Concussion and Sports Neurology Clinic. “Concussions can be concerning, but they shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum. The best way to prevent brain injury begins before the injury occurs.”
One way to do that is to consult with your child’s doctor or a sports neurologist for an annual evaluation. A sports neurologist focuses on managing sports-related brain and nervous system injuries and conditions in athletes, such as concussions, post-concussion syndrome, peripheral nerve injuries, migraines, epilepsy, and more.
“Having an annual evaluation of your athlete’s brain function when they are healthy and uninjured can help diagnose and treat issues when they arise,” says Dr. Kutcher.
Results from the baseline test can be used as an important tool for comparison by a qualified healthcare professional later if an athlete has a suspected concussion.
Best Practices to Ensure Your Athlete Stays Safe
Dr. Kutcher shares these tips for parents to make sure you’re keeping your child’s brain health and safety at the forefront, not just their athletic performance:
- Get a brain health baseline. A proper baseline test should include a personal and family neurological history, with a focus on any active issues. It is important to note any neurological conditions that may influence concussion recovery, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, or migraine headaches.
- Teach your kid to listen to their body. With any sport, there is a calculated risk to play. Teaching kids to listen to and be honest about how their body is feeling is the best way to prevent and treat injuries.
- In the event of an injury, look for the signs. Within 24 hours after an injury, an athlete should be evaluated if they are experiencing:
- Dizziness and nausea
- Changes in sleep habits
- Trouble with memory
- Irritability and anxiety
- Light sensitivity
- Brain injuries don’t just occur with a blow to the head. They can also occur from falls, car accidents, or even through whiplash. If your child is experiencing any symptoms, be sure to consult your physician.
- Brain health is more than just concussions. If your athlete is complaining of chronic headaches, migraines, dizziness, memory or mood issues, there may be an underlying issue.
“There is no magic number of concussions a brain can sustain. Each individual is different,” Dr. Kutcher explains. “The impact severity and recovery time can greatly affect an athlete’s brain. By getting a baseline before the injury, we can establish a goal to work towards in recovery.”
For more information or to make an appointment with a Henry Ford sports medicine doctor, please visit henryford.com/athletes.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist at the Henry Ford Concussion and Sports Neurology Clinic and the global director of the Kutcher Clinic.