The increased focus on concussion and head knocks is not limited to professional sport. (ABC News: Jen Browning)
Research shows concussion is most common in children under 13, with only 20 per cent of kids properly diagnosed and treated.
- Research shows kids’ sport-related concussions rates risen 60% in past decade
- Headgear does not protect brain from concussion as nerve cells can still sheer
- New guidelines to be introduced in Australia to detect and treat concussion
- Read Sport Medicine Australia’s guidelines for parents
A study from Brown University in the US found kids aged 8-13 had the highest rates of sports-related concussion.
Professor Gary Browne from the Children’s Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine in Sydney said concussion often went unreported in junior contact sports, which he said, was concerning.
“A lot of kids are very active, really from 12 to 14 years is when children are transitioning from those modified sports to competitive sports — from Oztag and those types of sports into more competitive types of sport where they’re exposed to much greater forces and impacts,” he said.
Australian neuroscientist professor Gavin Davis, from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said less than 20 per cent of concussed children were diagnosed, with even fewer seeking medical attention.
“Children are not merely little adults, but have significant physical, physiological and development differences that place them at risk of long-term sequelae [side-effects],” he said.
Headgear protects the skull, not the brain
Leading concussion expert Dr Alan Pearce from La Trobe University said the problem was exacerbated by the fact headgear does not protect kids.
“Many parents are misinformed about the role headgear plays in protecting their children against concussion,” he said.
The fact is, it doesn’t help at all.
Dr Alan Pearce said parents are being misinformed about head knocks to their kids. (ABC News: Jen Browning)
“All the peer-reviewed scientific research has shown helmets don’t protect the brain from a concussion injury,” Dr Pearce said.
Instead, headgear just protects the skull.
“What happens with an impact is that the brain sits within a sack of fluid and that still moves and stretches and causes sheering to the nerve cells underneath the skull,” he said.
“So any impact is still going to have an impact on the nerves, so helmets don’t stop the brain from moving.”
‘If in doubt, sit it out’
The increasing number of children with concussion has prompted the New South Wales Government to introduce new guidelines on how concussion should be treated in junior athletes.
It says if any player gets a knock to the head or neck and shows any symptoms of concussion such as headaches or dizziness, coaches and parents should “err on the side of safety” and “if in doubt, sit it out”.
“It’s about making sure we recognise that it happens, but more importantly making sure we manage concussion properly,” NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres said.
Headgear protects the skull, but the brain still gets damaged by head knocks. (ABC News: Jen Browning)
Any child diagnosed with or suspected of having concussion should not be allowed to return to the field on the day of injury.
Players will also be told not to rest for long periods afterwards as this can mask symptoms.
“What we’re trying to do with the research is not scare anyone, it’s to try to look at player longevity,” Dr Pearce said.
“If we can understand how players recover and respond to concussion then we will have better ways of managing them.”
Workshops on the new concussion guidelines will be held across NSW with the hope the measures will be adopted across Australia.
One concussion can do severe damage
Morgan Little’s concussion has caused him to occasionally ‘vague out’. (ABC News: Jen Browning)
Fourteen-year-old Morgan Little is a champion runner, cricketer and rugby player who took a hard knock during a routine game of rugby union.
“I don’t remember the day at all … all I remember is walking up to the car and the next thing I know I’m in hospital the next morning, knowing I have concussion,” he said.
He was not diagnosed on the field and it was not until later that day his mother realised he was not well.
“He asked the same question 14 times, so it didn’t take a rocket scientist long to know something was wrong,” she said.
Morgan continued to suffer from amnesia and severe headaches and was eventually diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, where the symptoms can last for months.
He is not allowed to play rugby for 18 months.
“I had no clue it could do anything like this,” he said.
“It surprised me — I thought it would be two weeks off and get back straight on the field.”
‘You only get one brain’
Not only is Morgan unable to play contact sport, his concussion has also had an impact on his schooling.
His mother, Jen, said he was unable to concentrate for long and his grades suffered.
She said speaking to the school counsellor helped Morgan, especially when explaining to his teachers about the seriousness of concussion.
“After eight months he finally saw the counsellor and that’s been really positive,” she said.
“The counsellor can talk to his teachers and explain, ‘Actually he does have concussion’. It can mean he takes longer to process things, he might take longer to do assignments or sometimes there are days he’s just vague-ing out.
“He’s not being a normal teenager, it might be his concussion.”
Morgan said he hoped other players who have head knocks take his lead and agree to sit out rather than risk permanent damage.
“I would say, ‘If you ever get a knock, take it seriously’,” he said.
“You only get one brain; you don’t want to do anything bad to it.”