Protect Your Child’s Brain When Playing Sports

Today, there’s a lot of pressure for gifted high school athletes to excel and even to “play through the pain.” As a parent, you recognize that it’s important to give children guidance that protects their health now and in the future. Sometimes the decisions you must make can be hard, especially if your child wants to participate in an activity that puts them at risk.

The seriousness of this was recently highlighted in a report by CNN about how brain injuries affect NFL Football players. CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head, of which, football players get plenty. While a helmet protects the head, it doesn’t protect the brain as it is jolted around inside the very hard skull.

Dr. Daniel Amen, neural psychiatrist, conducted a study on 116 NFL players and found that 113 of them suffered brain damage. Thirty percent of them were troubled by severe depression – that’s four times the rate of depression among the general population. He discovered patterns of damage to the part of the brain that manages mood stability and temper control. He explained that a player could have a concussion that is severe enough to wipe out a part of the frontal lobe without losing consciousness.

Some of the symptoms of brain damaging concussions are: headaches, nausea, light sensitivity, irritability, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, learning problems, poor decision-making skills and subsequent substance abuse. Doctors are especially concerned about children at the high school level because they have so much pressure to get back in the game before the brain has a chance to thoroughly heal. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidance for physicians who help students return to the classroom after suffering from a concussion, including the following:

  • Students need to allow their brain to recover by adjusting their academic workload, as well as taking a break from electronic devices.
  • Students should get a more detailed medical assessment if symptoms persist 3 weeks or more.
  • Students should be performing at their normal academic/cognitive level before they return to sports.
Much of the damage to the brain can be rehabilitated. If your child had suffered a serious blow to the head, be sure to consult with your child’s physician immediately so a proper assessment can be made. If you want some assistance in making and communicating your parental decisions, it can be helpful to consult with a mental health professional. Contact my office and set up an appointment in either my Portland, OR or Vancouver, WA office. 

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