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The Invisible Injury: What Parents and Kids Need to Know about Concussions

Athletes who play contact sports and their parents need to understand the risks of concussions. (greyerbaby/morguefile)
Athletes who play contact sports and their parents need to understand the risks of concussions. (greyerbaby/morguefile)
October 10, 2017

DETROIT – Any blow to the head - whether on the football field, the playground, or even the kitchen floor - can cause a concussion, which is why doctors say everyone needs to take precautions and know the warning signs.

As the head primary-care team physician for the Detroit Lions, family physician Dr. Michael Workings sees more than his fair share of head trauma. With fall sports now in full swing, he says after any head injury - no matter how minor - the athlete should immediately be removed from play, and parents and coaches need to watch very carefully for the symptoms of a concussion.

"Things like headaches, or change in your ability to keep your balance, or change in your sensation, or change in your mood," he said. "You should be looking for just an alteration in personality."

Because of the risk of cognitive and personality changes, Dr. Workings says it's crucial to get a medical evaluation if there's any reason to suspect a concussion, which is not visible to the naked eye. Treatment for concussions begins with avoiding physical and mental exertion. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that one in five teens, including non-athletes, have experienced at least one concussion.

While much of the recent discussion about the long-term effects of concussions has centered around football, Workings says all sports have the potential for head injuries. He says that doesn't have to mean giving up sports, but rather ensuring parents, kids and coaches are on the same page.

"Making sure that the athlete and the parent understand the risk, that the athlete is utilizing protective gear, that the parent is engaging in sports that are well-supervised and that, if there is a concussion, that it is taken seriously," he explains.

One of the most dangerous things, he adds, is to stay in the game or return to practice while suffering from a concussion.

"If you continue to play, there's a phenomenon called second impact - someone that's concussed, that takes another impact, that could deepen those concussion symptoms both in severity and in duration," he warns.

He notes that it's a common misconception that a person needs to be knocked unconscious in order to suffer a concussion. In fact, he says that is rarely the case, and that concussions can even occur without a blow to the head, if the body is knocked back and forth in a whiplash-type injury.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI