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A Parent's Guide to Contact Sports - Yes Your Child Should Play

Founder Sport Concussion Research Center

There has been more hysteria regarding the research mentioned in the press that talks about the false belief that all of those who play football, hockey, rugby or other contact sports will experience some form of brain injury. While these ideas make for sensational headlines and press coverage, they are far from the truth. My opinion, and that of many others who are studying all of the aspects of concussion, is that with proper systems in place, the benefits of involving your child in contact sports far out-weigh the risks. Here are my suggestions for you, the parent, if your daughter or son is playing contact sports.

  1. Base line testing doesn’t work. Twenty-four hours after a concussion, the testing is no better than picking out concussed or recovered children than flipping a coin. Children with ADHD or a learning disability cannot even be identified within that 24-hour period. Most importantly, even if accurate, we now know that an absence of symptoms doesn’t mean the brain has healed.

  1. While neuroimaging is effective in diagnosis, it often isn’t available to most. So if you believe your child has had a concussion, if you saw the hit or observe the symptoms, your child needs to avoid contact for 6 months after the first one, 12 months after the second, and after the third, consider a different sport. This is for children under the age of 18. Until we know more, just like with a knee injury such as an ACL-type, clear guidelines need to be in place. Older children need to have access to comprehensive assessments such as the Neural Network Injury Index, which can monitor improvement and assist in return to play decisions much earlier than 6 months.

  1. After a concussion, cardio exercise under supervision should commence in a safe manner within 24 hours of injury. Sitting in a dark room, doing nothing is no longer an accepted treatment.

  1. The culture of alcohol and drug use in many contact sports needs to change. We are finding it often isn’t the concussion that is significant, but what the athlete does after the concussion that contributes to the neuro-regeneration of the brain. Yes the brain will heal if you let it.

  1. We now know that children who are having problems recovering need to have a pituitary gland evaluation completed. Hormonal changes may be the reason the brain isn’t healing properly and in a timely manner. This is an important factor. Don’t ignore it.

  1. Your child isn’t going to be playing in the NFL, CFL or NHL. Let them keep that dream alive, but you as a parent need to let that one go concussion or not. Don’t insist your child play with injury.

  1. Healthy children engaged in contact sports should also do cardio bursts if they haven’t had a concussion. Just 20 minutes 4-5 times a week we believe may be an important prevention tool.

  1. Educate, educate and educate some more. Start with talking about the ability of the brain to re-generate under the right conditions. Talk to your child about lifestyle choices and how that can impact their play. Model the behaviour by you yourself, only engaging in occasional social non problem drinking, or abstain if you prefer. Alcohol is not a friend of concussion.

Each day as I study more about concussions, I know less. We all need to know what we don’t know as of today. In most cases, common sense and a clear system of action after a concussion, with research tested techniques, are needed. Get your child to play football, hockey or rugby today and stop reading newspaper articles on concussion. Most of them are truly “fake news.”

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