“They certainly play more games than ever and more games at a higher level of competition,” said Dr. Kevin Walter of the concussion clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. “They extend themselves more than ever. And with all the specialized training, they are bigger, faster and stronger. It adds up.”
Helmets, specialized mouth guards and headbands do not prevent concussions. “There is no known way to prevent concussions,” Stein said. “We love helmets and mouth guards; they protect your skull and your teeth. But they won’t stop a concussion from happening.”
Youth sports concussion clinics operate at the center of America’s heightened awareness and increasing worry about concussions among young athletes. Listening to the hundreds of stories of how concussions have occurred, examining patients and monitoring their recoveries, the doctors and staff members are a repository of anecdotal and medical concussion information.
- Female patients are making up a larger percentage of the clinics’ overall concussion patient population, a percentage that continues to rise year to year.“People used to say this was happening because female athletes are more likely than male athletes to report their concussion symptoms, but not many of us believe that is the reason any longer,” said Dr. Cynthia Stein of Boston Children’s Hospital. “Female athletes are just as aggressive about wanting to stay on the playing field, but maybe their sports are getting rougher.“Forty-one percent of our new patients are now female, which is a huge amount when you consider that the No. 1 sport causing concussions is football, and that’s nearly all male.”
- Many concussions seem to result from a hit the young athlete does not see coming. It is not just blindside hits in football; it is collisions in which only one party is braced for the collision, as seen in checking sports like lacrosse and hockey. Many soccer players are injured when they are hit in the head by a kicked ball at close range that they did not see coming, especially blows that came from the side or behind them.Doctors again have theorized that girding the neck for a collision or a blow to the head could be the body’s way of protecting the brain. If the blow comes without warning, that layer of fortification is not engaged.“As coaches always say, ‘Keep your head on a swivel so you know what’s going on around you,’ ” said Dr. Michael O’Brien at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It might be good advice for a lot of reasons.”