Concussion: Not Just A Minor Injury

Filed under: In The News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created this video in which Tracy, a high school basketball player, shares how she was sidelined by a concussion.

"We want all moms and dads to know that concussions are a very serious injury and should never be ignored," says CDC's Division of Injury Response director Dr. Rick Hunt.

Should concussions be a major worry for parents and coaches of young athletes? For a sobering answer, consult the family of Ryne Dougherty.

In 2008, Dougherty was a 17-year-old junior linebacker for his high school football team in Montclair, N.J. In September of that year, Dougherty suffered two concussions in two weeks, according to a lawsuit filed by his family. A month later, while playing for his school team, Dougherty suffered a third concussion. Two days later, he died.

Last month, Dougherty's parents sued the high school and the physician who cleared him to play.

Tragedies like that one are rare in youth sports, thankfully. But head injuries are a distressing fact of life. According to the Journal of Athletic Training, more than 55,000 high school football players in the United States suffered concussions in 2005-2006, making it the most dangerous sport for head trauma. Next were girls' soccer at 29,000, boys' soccer at 20,000 and girls' basketball at nearly 13,000.

Researchers say they don't completely understand what the effects are on the brain when athletes suffer repeated concussions over many years, though recent studies are disturbing. Earlier last month, a study commissioned by the National Football League pointed to former players being diagnosed with dementia at a rate as much as 19 times higher than average.

These problems aren't limited to the pro ranks, either. The New York Times reported on the death of a former football player who never played professionally, yet fit a familiar profile: multiple concussions from playing the sport and a damaged brain.

Some injuries -- including concussions -- are unavoidable, even for young athletes, say sports medicine experts. Michael Stuart, an orthopedic surgeon and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic, tells ParentDish that the key for parents and youth coaches is "to understand what a concussion is and what the symptoms are." Also important, Stuart says, is for adults to be cautious about allowing children who have suffered head trauma to return to their sport.

"The pediatric brain is different from the brain of adults. It may be a longer recovery," he says. "We [advocate] a very strict policy about when a child can get back to playing: When in doubt, sit them out." For more information on kids sports and concussions, including fact sheets for coaches, parents and athletes, check out Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports.

ParentDish sports reporter Mark Hyman is the author of Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids (Beacon Press) Have a suggestion for an article on youth sports? Contact Mark at

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.