Research shows that the fall season, when many popular contact sports are in session, is associated, naturally, with a dramatic spike in the number of concussions among kids. That’s not the only time to stay vigilant, however, because each spring we see another seasonal increase in brain injury in our concussion clinic.
Warm weather draws families outside, and kids get busy on the work of childhood. Bike riding, playground adventures, spring sports like lacrosse and soccer, and skateboarding present risks for concussion, the most mild and common type of traumatic brain injury.
Here’s what parents need to know about these childhood activities and how to keep kids safe this spring by targeting prevention towards seasonal activities with the greatest risks:
While a helmet won’t make your child “concussion-proof,” wearing one is the most effective prevention method. Make it a family rule, and one that adults follow as well. Helmets should fit comfortably and sit low on the forehead, one to two finger breadths above the eyebrows, securely buckled against the chin with no rocking.
Ensure a bicycle is the right size for your child now, not six months from now. When seated, the child’s feet must be able to touch the ground. Keep reflectors tightened, brakes working properly, and tires secure and inflated.
Help your child to learn the rules of the road and follow all traffic laws. It is important for parents to provide supervision until the child not only has strong cycling and traffic skills but also demonstrates good judgment while riding. When faced with an erratic driver, make sure your child knows what to do. Keep in mind that even if your child is a very good rider, they will encounter things they can’t control, like when a small child or animal runs into their path.
Ideally children should not cycle in low-visibility conditions, but if riding at dawn or dusk, utilize reflective clothing and a bike equipped with a front headlight and a rear red reflector or flashing light.
Research shows that a fall on the playground that results in a concussion is most likely to come from the monkey bars, climbing equipment, or swings. Staying nearby when your child plays on those pieces of equipment is an especially good idea, but recognize that anytime a child falls, especially from a greater distance than their height off the ground, the risk of concussion is present.
Using playground equipment that is sized for your child’s age can help, as smaller children will remain closer to the ground when still developing motor skills and will be less likely to be knocked off of a structure by an older child. Encourage your child to use the equipment for what it was designed, and be aware of who else is on the play structure, as unsafe behaviors of other kids can increase the risk of falls.
Overall, safe playgrounds reduce risk. Guardrails on slides and openings can help prevent falls, while soft material such as wood chips, sand, and mulch can cushion a fall when it happens. Beware of wet and slippery equipment, keep an eye out for things like tree stumps and rocks that can trip your child, and wear appropriate shoes to provide good foot stability.
Whether baseball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, rugby, swimming, or water polo, the spring sports season brings contact and non-contact activities that increase the risk of concussion. An injury can occur when a player’s head connects with another head or an elbow, knee, foot, ball, goalpost, or the ground. Injuries can also be caused by impact to the chest, with forces transmitted to the head.
The proper wearing of appropriate equipment and use of correct technique for the individual sport can help to prevent injury to the head. Teaching young athletes to play by the rules of their sport is also important in reducing risky maneuvers or attempts to score at all costs.
Parents can play an active role in prevention by keeping a watchful eye on contact between players and stepping in when there’s a possible injured athlete on the field. Parents may also want to put a support team in place before the season begins by identifying doctors that specialize in pediatric brain injury and concussion and recording emergency contact information. The developing brain may be especially susceptible to concussion, and the brain is the only organ in the body that continues to develop for the first 25 years of life. Prevention is the best protection against a concussion, and parents can take steps this spring and beyond to reduce the risk of concussion and help protect their child’s brain.