Every year in the United States, about 170,000 children and teens suffer brain injuries while playing sports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly ten percent of all high school sports injuries are concussions. Probably thousands of brain injuries are not even reported because brain injury symptoms are hard to identify – if, in fact, there are any symptoms. And a disturbing new study has found that high school athletes who kept playing in the minutes after a concussion took nearly twice as long to recover as those who left the game immediately after the head trauma.

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Published in the journal Pediatrics, the new report focuses on an entrenched sports culture that encourages young athletes to “play through the pain.” Medical guidelines call for benching a high school athlete after a head injury to avoid the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a second injury. “Kids are often reluctant to acknowledge a concussion,” Dawon Dicks, a youth football coach in Andover, Massachusetts, told the New York Times. “The kid may want a scholarship and want to go to college, or it could be that ‘Dad or Coach wants me to play.’ That’s when they’re going to start to be a little dishonest in what they’re truly feeling.”

The Pediatrics study tracked 69 athletes who participated in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program after suffering a head injury while competing in football, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, ice hockey, basketball, wrestling, or rugby. Participants ranged from ages 12 through 19. The study included 35 athletes who were benched immediately after a concussion and 34 who continued to perform.

WHAT WERE THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY?

Players who continued to perform after a head trauma needed an average of 44 days to recover, while those who were benched immediately after sustaining a concussion required only an average of 22 days. Researchers found no particular recovery differences between males and females. While the sample group was small, the results were stunning and pointed to the importance of seeking immediate medical attention after suffering a concussion. Acting promptly allows the athlete more opportunities to play – not fewer.

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Rest – in the first 48 hours after a concussion – followed by a slow return to competition under a doctor’s care minimizes the potential for further injury and lets the brain cells heal faster. R.J. Elbin, who led the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and now directs the Office for Sport Concussion Research at the University of Arkansas, told the New York Times, “It’s something that we consistently preach to coaches, parents, and kids. However, until now, there really has not been any data that supports this idea.”

Concussions can be extremely deceptive. Players, coaches, and parents must be extra-cautious regarding any blow to the head, because a concussion is not always immediately apparent, and many young athletes do not even realize at first that they’ve been injured. A sports-related concussion can happen whenever there is a jolt, bump, or blow to the head that causes the brain to shift within the head and collide against the skull, pulling and injuring brain cells. The symptoms of a concussion can include memory loss, confusion, dizziness, and sensitivity to light.

WHY DO YOUTHS NEED MORE TIME TO RECOVER FROM CONCUSSIONS?

High school athletes, in particular, need a longer recovery period after a concussion and are more apt to suffer complications. The brain is still developing in the teen years, and “the developing brain has been shown to be more vulnerable to the physiological effects of the injury,” Tad Seifert, a neurologist and director of the Sports Concussion Program for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, told the New York Times.

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It’s estimated that 50 to 70 percent of sports-related concussions go unreported despite increasing awareness in the sports community of the danger. Some athletes and coaches may not recognize the signs or symptoms of a concussion, but there’s a widespread concern that the bigger problem is an outdated way of thinking that stigmatizes athletes for leaving the game. “The idea of being a football player is that we’re tough. We get back up. We don’t cry. We don’t make a big deal out of it,” Dawon Dicks said in the New York Times.

However, when they learn that leaving the game as soon as they’ve been injured may speed recovery, that knowledge may be the motivation that young athletes need, according to Dr. Jeff Bazarian, a professor of emergency medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Rochester. Without immediate medical treatment, a blow to the head could become a serious brain injury. Outpatient therapy costs up to $1,000 a day, and hospital-based rehabilitation for brain injury victims costs up to $8,000 a day. In total, the direct and indirect cost of brain injuries in the United States is estimated at more than $76 billion a year.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER CAUSES OF CONCUSSIONS?

While far too many young athletes suffer concussions on the playing field, about 2.4 million people each year suffer a traumatic brain injury in the United States, and more than 17 percent of those victims are injured in traffic accidents. In Indiana, if you sustain a brain injury because of another driver’s negligence, contact an experienced Evansville personal injury attorney who can advocate on your behalf for the compensation you’ll need.

Those injured by another person’s negligence in Indiana are entitled by law to complete compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and all other injury-related losses and expenses. You’ll also want to speak with an experienced Evansville personal injury attorney if your child suffers a concussion while playing sports at school. Sometimes accidents just happen – and no one is responsible – but if someone’s negligence contributed to a sports-related injury suffered by your child, you probably have legal recourse.

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Brain injury victims have more hope now than ever before. Specialists looking for brain injuries conduct a variety of tests such as computerized screening, which directly observes the brain as it operates. If you or someone you love suffers a concussion, take no chances. If you sustain a concussion while playing sports, in a traffic collision, in a workplace accident, or in any other scenario, seek medical attention immediately. Not only is safe better than sorry, but if a brain injury was caused by another’s negligence, you’ll need full medical documentation of the injury’s severity and extent if you pursue a personal injury claim.