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Spring Sports: Concussion Safety Tips

It's a new season—avoid brain damage while enjoying the games we love.

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When every new season rolls around, it's the ideal time for reality check to see if you, your child and coach are being “smart" about concussion prevention and detection.

While football seems to get all the glamorous coverage regarding concussion risk, other Spring and Summer sports also have high incidence rates. These include baseball, lacrosse, volleyball, water polo, bicycling, even flag and frisbee football.

Soccer, however, is the concussion arch-nemesis. Particularly for women, soccer accounts for more concussions per participant than football. According to this study, head injuries are much more common than anticipated due to collisions to the head involving head to head, elbow, knee, foot, the ball, the ground, concrete sidelines, goalposts and any combination of these.

Concussion incidence rates are estimated to be around 300,000 concessions occurring during recreational activities every year, and these are only the ones reported in an emergency room, according to the Center for Disease Control. Additionally, your child's brain is particularly susceptible to concussion injury, because it's one organ that is continually developing through the age of 25 years-old.

By now, we all know about concussion repercussions, right? Concussions, although considered a mild brain injury, can be serious—even fatal. But they don't have to prevent you or your child from enjoying the benefits of playing sports! We just have to be smart. Take the necessary precautions, and avoid risk of persistent headaches, lack of impulse control, personality changes, sleep disruption, memory loss and even early onset of Alzheimers.

Smart concussion safety includes:

1. Educate yourself about concussions. Most states now require some form of education or liability release. See statewide concussion compliance laws here. Regardless of what is required, strive to do better. Start with learning a bit about the brain, signs and symptoms of concussion, and what to do when a concussion is suspected.

2. Get your athlete "baseline" tested. This is typically a neuro-cognitive test that measures memory, language and process speed prior to concussion injury. It establishes a baseline score for the athlete and used for comparison to assess the degree of injury. I recommend using a baseline test that also measures emotional issues and balance.

3. Assign a "concussion coordinator." Select or elect someone to help take the lead with helping the team with education, baseline test, other prevention activities such as making sure equipment is in proper condition and fitting right, monitoring the practices and games, stepping in when there's a possible concussed athlete on the field. Also, gather appropriate doctors and emergency contact information prior to the season starts.

4. Use a sideline assessment tool. Select a smartphone based app that includes concussion detection guidance with sideline orientation, symptom and balance testing. At a minimum, use the SCAT3 (sports concussion assessment test) to have on hand during the practices and games.

5. Don't move the unconscious player. Loss of consciousness is the most obvious concussion symptoms. But it's important not to move an unconscious player. Give it 30 seconds or so and if the player doesn't respond, then begin CPR. When the athlete returns to consciousness, take care to avoid exasperating any neck or spinal trauma.

6. When in doubt, sit them out. Many times, concussion symptoms do not materialize for several minutes, hours and days. So, if you suspect someone may be fighting off being dizzy or wobbly, then pull them aside for 5 minutes and begin the sideline assessment test.

7. Rest before return-to-play or return-to-learn. After a concussion, the best thing to do is rest the individual. Avoid overloading the brain with input from movies, gaming, talking, texting, even reading. Rest is the prescription. Then, begin the recovery protocol.

8. Have a recovery protocol in place. This is a progressive-exertion protocol that allows the brain to heal by brings it along in a way that does not provoke symptoms from re-occurring. Once the athlete can complete the recovery protocol, then seek medical clearance from your physician.

Most importantly, strive to instill a culture on the team that values the health of the athletes' brains, and corresponding futures, over wins and losses.

How long does it take to heal from a concussion?

This is one of the most common questions, because we all want to know if the concussion will have long-lasting effects and when can the athlete return to the sport. The bottom line answer is it depends and we really don’t know for sure.

Typically, if the athlete is leads a healthy lifestyle, has not had previous concussion injury, and they follow a strict recovery protocol, they may be symptom-free and ready to return to practice within 7-10 days. Still, I have other colleagues say full recovery from concussion takes six months to a year. Since brain health varies from individual to individual, more research needs to take place to help understand if recovery is possible, and if so, what factors could help accelerate healing. In the meantime, and in light of the risks, it’s wise to take every precaution possible.

Harry Kerasidis, M.D. is one of only a few neurologists in the world specializing in concussion detection and prevention. After 25 years treating hundreds of concussions, Dr. Kerasidis noticed most people were using protocols, information and tools that were out of date, limited or incomplete. So he created his own, now called XLNTbrain LLC, an online and mobile platform to provide everything necessary to help prevent, detect and protect student athletes from concussions.

Dr. Kerasidis also founded Chesapeake Neurology Associates, serves as Medical Director at Calvert Memorial Hospital for the Center for Neuroscience, the hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center and Stroke Center.

His new book, "Concussionology: Redefining Sports Concussion Management" comes out in June, 2015.