U.S. youth sports, especially football and soccer, have seen a quick rise in concussion protocol in recent years. Anywhere between 1 million to 2 million youth under age 18 suffer a concussion every year engaged in sports or recreational activities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a number that’s thankfully starting to fall, thanks to laws and association mandates.

As a former soccer player turned coach, I’ve had the opportunity to visualize the growth of concussion awareness. When I was in elementary school back in 2005, I had a blow to the head in a soccer game from challenging the ball in midair, and consequently got bulldozed by the opponent goalkeeper. I momentarily blacked out, and all I remember was being cheered on while walking off the field because the clash resulted in a goal. As soon as I stepped off the field I was put back in play vs. being watched for signs of a concussion. My coach, going on the limited knowledge at the time, reasoned that I didn’t remember the play because I’d had an adrenaline rush. Years later I took several required concussion protocol courses to become a coach, and I can guarantee that the blackout was a result of a concussion.

Steps to prevent concussions ranges from little things such as football associations limiting contact practice drills, all the way to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has banned players under 11 from heading the ball, and limited the amount of headers players, ages 11 to 13, are allowed in practice. There is also more precaution when dealing with a blow to the head during the game: Play must be stopped immediately if the player goes down with a head injury, unlike an injury to any other part of the body.  Although organizations have acted upon concussions, many people on the sidelines are still clueless or unaware of what a concussion is, its side effects or potential long-term effects.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion occurs when there is a sudden jolt to the head in which the brain moves and hits the skull. This contact to the actual brain can cause it to bounce or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.

Symptoms of a Concussion

If someone has any of the following symptoms following a harsh movement or blow to the head, they might have a concussion:
• Dazed and confused
• Memory loss
• Neck pain, headaches
• Nausea, vomiting
• Double vision, blurriness
• Ringing noise or sensitive to sounds
• Coordination skills look out of sorts or out of balance

Medical Attention for Concussions

Immediate medical attention is required if the individual is having trouble forming sentences or recognizing people and places.  Also, if any of the symptoms persist for a long period or if they worsen, seek immediate medical attention.

If someone suffers a concussion, hold off on allowing him or her to do physical activities, which can be detrimental to his or her health. Many doctors also advise against any screen time, including texting, playing video games or watching TV. A concussion victim should go at least 24 hours without getting a headache or migraine; if he or she doesn’t, see a doctor.

Suffering concussions can lead to grave future health issues. The damaged area of the brain is very sensitive and the individual can suffer from loss of memory to symptoms very similar to Parkinson’s disease. Concussions are rarely deadly but they are very dangerous to the physical as well as the mental health of any individual. I was lucky to have escaped without lasting injuries but others aren’t so fortunate.

Most sports have enacted concussion safety protocols. Now it’s time for parents to get educated to ensure treatment is followed properly, but also because concussions don’t just happen on the soccer or football field–they can happen anywhere.

– Alejandro Giraldo

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