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Managing Concussions in Young Athletes

Child with football helmet to avoid concussionsby Colby Hansen, MD
Pediatric Rehabilitation

As part of Brain Awareness Week, I felt that a discussion of concussions could be helpful.  The last few years have brought unprecedented attention to this issue.  Research on concussions is continually raising questions of the potential life altering consequences of poorly managed concussions.  Further, much interest is being placed on the potentially damaging effects of concussions in children.

As a result of a growing body of research and the earnest efforts of affected individuals, virtually every professional sports organization now has a formal policy regarding the management of concussions in athletes.  Every collegiate athletic program is now required to have a comprehensive concussion policy in place.  And more recently, state high school athletic associations have also been required to implement concussion policies.

2008 marked the first state law to be passed requiring attention be paid to concussions in young athletes; this occurred in the state of Washington in honor of a young athlete, Zachary Lystedt, who suffered a devastating brain injury while playing football in high school.

Fittingly, in 2011, Utah joined several other states in passing legislation that now requires all youth, amateur athletes to be removed from play in the event that a concussion takes place or is suspected of taking place.  Further, that young athlete may not be allowed to return to play the same day, and must receive medical clearance from a qualified healthcare provider prior to returning to play.

The law further stipulates that sporting organizations have a concussion policy in place and that participants and parents/guardians of participants are educated on these policies prior to the beginning of the sporting season.

What is being done locally to help advance our knowledge and understanding of concussion, and provide expert care to our children and young athletes?

  • Active research projects include validating an important balance assessment tool in children ages 5 thru 15, which will provide useful information to healthcare providers assessing children after a concussion has occurred.
  • We are assessing primary care providers’ level of knowledge and comfort in managing concussion. This will inform ongoing educational efforts of the medical community.
  • The University of Utah Concussion program has online resources to help sports organizations develop a comprehensive concussion policy. It also contains information on concussions, choosing the right helmet for a particular sport, and fitting a helmet properly.
  • Pre-injury, or baseline, assessments of neurocognitive function can be a useful tool in assessing a concussed athlete post-injury by making a more direct comparison of memory and reaction time to that person’s own baseline.  This may be particularly valuable for individuals participating in higher risk contact sports, such as football, soccer, snowboarding, and skiing.

There are many clinics where testing for concussions is available.  You should consult with your pediatrician or other healthcare professional to locate one that can meet the individual needs of your child or teenager.

Colby Hansen, MDDr. Hansen is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Utah. He also works on Primary Children’s medical staff in pediatric rehabilitation. He has particular interest in Traumatic Brain Injury and has developed a concussion management program for athletes, non-athletes, adults, and children.

About Primary Children's Hospital

​Primary Children’s Hospital ranks among the best children's hospitals. Located in scenic Utah, everything in our hospital is focused on providing the best care for children. For more than 90 years, we have been committed to helping children, families, and communities across the western United States.

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