Concussion Syndrome (CTE): Should My Child Play Sports?

This is a question that a lot of parents are asking themselves. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been found during autopsies of people who have suffered from symptoms such as memory loss, depression, anger, and early death.

A concussion develops when the brain impacts the skull and thus damages and kills off neurons. This can happen in many activities and usually does not affect the day to day activities of most people during their lifetime. Children are most susceptible, due to the growth period and maturing of their soft tissue and skeletal systems. Physicians and scientists have long believed that repeated blows to the head will lead to early onset of behavioral changes and symptoms.  It should be noted that there can be many other factors that determine behavioral changes in people, including; Genetics, alcohol, opioid medications, performance enhancing drugs, and diet, to name a few. Currently there is no known treatment for early diagnosis of CTE.

A recent study was performed by the CDC on 202 football players that ranged from professional, college, and high school players. Among these players, 110 of 111 former NFL players, 48 of 53 college players, and 3 of 14 high school players were diagnosed with early signs of CTE. CTE can only be confirmed during autopsy. Semi-professional and Canadian players were also tested in this group.

Since I first started  working with high school and college football players and concussion syndrome in 1999, there have been a lot of positive changes to help reduce the severity of head injuries. Players are immediately taken out of the game and examined by medical or trained personnel after any hit to the head. Oxygen is delivered to the player as soon as any symptoms are noted to help prevent brain cell death. Football helmets are much safer with more cushion to soften the blows to the head. Coaches are taught proper techniques to avoid using their head to tackle to avoid contact to the head.

Parents should take note that young children and babies fall a lot when playing and being active and that young brains do sustain concussions. Just as arthritis is a normal finding among active adults. I feel that all healthy children should be active and participate in sports or some type of exercise. The benefits far outweigh the risks of getting hurt. If your child shows an interest in contact sports such as football, soccer, martial arts, etc.  speak with the coaches involved to make sure that they are teaching proper technique and participate by coaching and/or playing with your children to make sure they are having fun and avoiding injuries. If the children show promise to continue with contact sports past high school, that is when the coaches, trainers, and league officials have been more educated to watch for and utilize more medical personnel to help prevent concussion type symptoms.

There are many more studies to be completed, but in the long run, an active lifestyle and playing sports provides much greater benefits than the potential risks of injuries. Let’s just be aware of risks involved in living

By Anthony Yoshino DC, CSCS

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