By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Local medical professionals say they are seeing an increase in the number of concussion injuries in both high school and middle school-aged students.
Stephanie Keiningham, concussion coordinator for Texas Family Physicians in Four Points, said there are several reasons for the increase in the number of cases. While more and more is being understood about concussions and more cases are being reported, she said it’s also due to the increase in popularity of club sports among younger athletes and the increasing intensity of sports for older students.
“As their level of activity has increased, we are seeing more incidents of concussion,” Keiningham said. “Our kids are bigger and stronger and hit harder and play harder. The intensity of activity has increased.”
While the majority of concussions she sees are from football, she also sees a high number of cases from sports such as soccer and cheerleading. She said she is seeing an increase in concussions among younger athletes.
“A lot of studies are saying that the 10-14 ages are having the harder time recovering,” she said. “Their brain is still developing so it takes longer for them to recover.”
A concussion occurs when the head is jostled or receives a direct blow, causing the brain to shift inside the skull. Keiningham said so much more is known today about concussions than when she first started in the field 20 years ago.
Despite the risks, she said she never discourages parents from getting their kids involved in athletics.
“I love athletics,” she said. “I believe these sports teach our kids so much. I don’t ever think you should withhold from sports because of the possibility (of injury).”
While no football helmet can prevent concussions, she said football players should make sure their helmets are certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards on Operating Equipment and properly fitted by a professional.
“It scares me sometimes that these athletes go in and don’t have their helmet properly fitted,” she said. “It needs to happen by someone who is properly trained.”
Many school districts, including Leander ISD, use baseline tests, which are pre-concussive, neuro-cognitive tests, so that in the case of a concussion, medical professionals would have something to compare the student’s brain to.
“Every brain is so different, like a snowflake,” Keiningham said. “The best thing as far as treatment is to have a fingerprint (of the brain). If they do have a concussion, once they return to baseline, we know they’re ok.”
She recommended that middle school athletes have a baseline test done every year because their brains are still changing. She said high school students should have the test done every two years.
While the most common symptom of concussion is headache, symptoms may also include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision and a lack of concentration. There are also emotional side effects, where patients may feel anxious and overly-emotional for no apparent reason.
“I’ve had big football players in my office crying and they don’t know why they’re upset,” Keiningham said.
For patients who have suffered a concussion, the first step in treatment is to rest the brain by limiting activity and social stimulus.
“Like a hamstring, we’re going to rest it,” she said. “The brain never shuts down. It can never go to sleep, it’s processing all your body functions.”
To help reduce the risk of concussion, Keiningham recommends that competitive athletes stay hydrated, be educated on proper body positioning and do regular neck-strengthening exercises.
“The stronger our neck muscles are, the more controlled our head movements can be,” she said. “You are able to react and recover quicker. It’s key in prevention.”
While middle school and high school coaches are governed by UIL and have undergone special training to prevent concussions, younger club sports are often led by parent coaches who may not have had the same level of training. She said the Four Points Pop Warner league has done a good job of educating parents and coaches in proper techniques.
“There is a proper way to hit or head the ball to avoid concussions,” she said. “The more educated we become and the more we teach our kids, the less incidents there will be or the incidents won’t be as severe. We want to educate our community because the more we know, the healthier our kids and the sports will be.”