Concussions and Kids: Latest Developments in Diagnosis and Treatment of Student Athlete Head Injuries

Concussions and Kids: Latest Developments in Diagnosis and Treatment of Student Athlete Head Injuries

Concussions are injuries to the head which can result in permanent harm and debilitating life-long traumatic brain injury.  When children, teenagers, and young adults suffer a head injury and concussion while playing school sports, it can be a particularly heart-wrenching result.

Kids’ playing football, baseball, and soccer isn’t going to end in Indiana and Illinois or the rest of the country anytime soon, of course.

This means that lots of research studies are searching for ways to lessen the likelihood of a head injury on the field of play as well as methods and treatments to reduce the severity of concussions as they occur.  And there’s still no clear answer on keeping players safe from severe head injury.

Self-Reporting Problem

As we discussed in our last post, those with a duty to care and monitor players on the field for head injury are discussing “self-reporting” as a factor in treating concussions.  If the player does not take himself off the field for a concussion, then they are suggesting their duty is lessened if not negated.

That’s sad.  And ironic to suggest that someone who has suffered a trauma to his brain should be responsible for making sound decisions at the time.  This is especially true for young players, teens, and children. 

The Spit Test for Concussions

One new scientific development that works well for concussion injury victims of any age is the new “spit test.”

Here, a test of the victim’s saliva can reveal the extent of the victim’s concussion injury and how long the victim will be experiencing concussion symptoms.  Presented at the May 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, it’s being promoted as a tool to be used specifically in the treatment of child and adolescent concussion injuries.

The saliva test is heralded as 90% reliable in testing done on children and teens who suffered a concussion head injury.  Right now, it’s still in the testing phase but there’s hope to have the “Spit Test” out for doctors to use within the year.

Key here:  the “concussion spit test” can be done on the sideline of the playing field.  Players could be promptly identified and removed from the field of play if they tested positive for a head injury. 

 It doesn’t prevent concussions, but it will help to get fast medical care for the injury victim.


There is an ongoing discussion on the importance of helmets in preventing or minimizing traumatic brain injuries, particularly in football.  We’ve discussed needed research going into advancing helmet safety before, see: Helmets: Limited Protection of the Head and Brain from Serious Injury or Death and Helmets Do Not Stop Child Head Injuries and Concussions.

The reality remains that wearing a football helmet, even one of the new technological advancements, is not going to stop concussions from happening. 

For details, read the discussion in the article by Ryan Mayer published on May 23,2017, entitled, “New Helmet Technology Isn’t A Cure-All For Football’s Concussion Issues .”

Debate on Proper Treatment of Child Suffering Concussion: Is Cocooning Wrong?

A new research study is challenging the current “cocooning” treatment prescribed to concussion victims.  It argues that cocooning is all wrong for the injury victim.   Read the full text here as published by the British Journal of Sports MedicineMcCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvořák J, et al Consensus statement on concussion in sport—the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016 Br J Sports Med 2017;51:838-847.

After a player has suffered a concussion, parents are told to keep the patient quiet.  No reading, no video games.  No running, obviously no return to the field.  The restrictions can go on for weeks, as the brain heals from the injuries it has sustained.  This has been called “cocooning.”

Restricting the concussion victim is not in their best interests, according to the British researchers.  So, now we’ve got conflicting opinions on what is best for the concussion victim:  stay quiet or get moving?

Read more in the New York Times article, “New Advice to Move More After a Concussion.”  And then consider:  what happens if the wrong treatment protocol is followed?  Who decides which method to follow?  Legally, who has the duty to decide what is best – to cocoon or to move – for the child who has suffered a severe concussion on the playing field?

Concussion Brain Injuries

Today, the risk of a serious head injury for the athlete playing contact sports like football, baseball, or soccer is high.  And sports technologies have yet to solve the problem.  Medical protocols are evolving.

One thing is clear:  those who watch over these athletes, particularly children, must do all they can to keep these players safe and to get them prompt medical treatment if they are injured. 

Their failure to meet that duty, however mistaken or unintentional, still can cause life-altering harm and damage to the concussion victim.

Children and young adults suffering concussion injuries can be preventable tragedies with lifelong harm.  Let’s be careful out there!

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