Migraine Severe HeadacheRecently we’ve reviewed the topic of concussions in teen athletes. A new study came out from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that contains good news and bad news. The good news is that teen athletes are well-educated about the signs and symptoms of concussion, as well as the serious consequences of returning to play after one occurs. The bad news is, about half of the adolescents with this knowledge would go back to playing in the game anyway.

In Washington State (and many others), there’s an extra level of protection. The Zachary Lystedt Law dictates that young athletes suspected of having sustained a head injury may not return to play until examined by a licensed health care provider. As frustrating as the law can be for some athletes, I have no doubt it has saved many young people from devastating outcomes.

Coaches and other athletic staff are required to pull players when they’ve witnessed an incident or behavior indicating a head injury. But barring a dramatic thump to the head, often coaches are relying on player report for whether or not they may have a concussion. And players are sometimes downplaying, or outright denying, symptoms of concussion that are present.

They’re not doing this because they feel particularly deceitful that day. They’re doing this because they want to play in the game, and they don’t want to be injured. This isn’t just a teenage phenomenon. How many people do you know who have decided to run that marathon despite their doctor’s recommendation to take it easy on their knee, get back into that soccer game in the rain even though their cold is starting to get worse, go out dancing in high heels even though their broken toe hasn’t fully healed? How much did we love Kerri Strug finishing that amazing vault on an ankle with a severe sprain and tendon damage?  

The problem with a possible concussion is that young athletes are facing something much more severe than joint, tendon, or ligament damage. The organ they’re putting in danger is their brain. They know how a concussion might present, and what the consequences can be. But because of a combination of adolescence and overall humanity, it’s not sinking in to a point where a majority of teen athletes would say, Whoa, I should stop now.

How do you ensure your teen is responsible about this? I don’t think anyone has figured out the best way to convince a teen athlete to comply with recommendations. But as usual, talking to your teen  never hurts, and probably helps.

Talk about how much you would hate for them to suffer brain damage, how it could ruin all their aspirations, from educational to athletic. Encourage your teen to watch out for their friends, and check in with them or tell the coach if something doesn’t feel right. Remind them how proud you are of them for their athletic achievements- including just getting out there and playing- but that it would make you even prouder if they were adult enough to recognize a good decision from a bad one, in the heat of the game.

I’d love to hear your ideas on this issue, from individual to community action plans. What do you think?