Most people have seen the headlines about concussions as a common sports injury—and it's natural that parents of athletes may have concerns. A large misconception in sports is that previous concussions are to be blamed for ongoing headaches, blurred vision and memory loss, among other symptoms.
“It’s really important to think about concussions in tandem with overall brain health,” says Jake Carpenter-Thompson, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified neurologist at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. “Concussions can be concerning, but they shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum. It is important to understand an athlete’s overall brain health to help manage recovery after any impact.”
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 health when they are at their baseline - and uninjured - can help diagnose and treat issues when they arise,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson.
A qualified healthcare professional can use the baseline evaluation results as an important comparison tool if an athlete develops a suspected concussion.Best Practices For Keeping Athletes Safe
Dr. Carpenter-Thompson shares these tips to ensure you keep your child’s brain health and safety front of mind, not just their athletic performance:
- Get a brain health baseline test. This should include a personal and family neurological history, with a focus on current issues. It is important to note any neurological conditions that may influence concussion recovery, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety or migraine headaches.
- Encourage your children to listen to their body. There are risks to playing any sport. Encourage your child to listen to and be honest about how they’re feeling. It’s 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
- Know that brain injuries don’t just occur with a blow to the head. They can also occur from falls, car accidents or even whiplash. If your child is experiencing any symptoms, consult your physician.
- Remember that 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 person is different,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson. “The severity of the impact and recovery time can vary greatly for numerous reasons. By getting a brain health assessment before the injury, we can provide more targeted care to improve an athlete's overall clinical course.”
Reviewed by Jake Carpenter-Thompson, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified neurologist at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.