We’ve all heard about concussions suffered by professional athletes. However, while researching these traumatic brain injuries is important for this age group, the focus should be on those under the age of 18.

According to Christina Master, M.D., co-director of the concussion program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she believes more attention and research should be paid to brain injuries suffered by children and teenagers.

According to recent research, about 283,000 U.S. children under 18 visit the ER every year due to a recreation-related traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion. These injuries usually happen on the playground or while playing sports. In fact, injuries from contact sports and playground activities make up nearly 50% of the figure above.

As more awareness has been placed around concussions in professional athletes, this “has certainly trickled down to the youth athlete level,” says Dr. Master. As a result, more research efforts have been in place, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

New findings sparking change

Over the years, recent findings regarding concussions in children and teens have evolved in the way we diagnose and treat these conditions. For example, we’ve learned more about the full-recovery period for these individuals, including how a sports concussion differs between girls and boys.

Recently, Christina Master, M.D. has worked on studies funded by the National Institutes of Health. One of her goals was to find a better, faster, and more objective way for diagnosing concussions. A notable finding was that a sports concussion could be diagnosed through simple balance and eye-tracking tests. Once the tests are complete, a doctor can effectively determine if a traumatic brain injury has occurred, such as a concussion.

Another key finding was that concussion patients between 5 and 15 had around a 17% chance of getting another concussion in the next two years. According to research from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, these repeat concussions were more common among older kids.

New paths of recovery

While there have been some critical findings regarding how to better diagnose a traumatic brain injury, we have also learned more about the recovery process. According to research, kids who have suffered a concussion may need more assistance at school and on the playing field. If kids try to push themselves too hard, mentally or physically, this could impact their recovery. However, riding an exercise bike or taking walks can actually help in the recovery process. Children and teens are encouraged to take things slow and not overdo it.

“The idea of sitting in a dark room after a concussion is probably going by the wayside,” Dr. Master states. Doing so could lead to problems. In fact, sitting in a dark room after a concussion isn’t backed by any scientific evidence. Gradually returning to normal activities seems to be the best approach.

“Once a child’s symptoms start to improve a few days after the concussion, there is a role for low-intensity activity. The idea is just to get the heart rate slightly elevated without provoking severe symptoms.”

Unfortunately, far too many people don’t take concussions seriously. In fact, a player may suffer a concussion during a football game, then be thrown out there for the next play. To take the appropriate course of action after suffering a sports concussion, parents, teachers, and coaches should not take these lightly. “They can have a big impact on a child’s life. They need support at home and at school, and active management from a physician,” Dr. Master adds.

While suffering a concussion can be a worrying experience, the majority of children and teens recover just fine. “Kids generally do well in recovering from a concussion with proper attention and treatment,” Dr. Master concludes.