Concussion Should Sideline Kids from Sports for 3 Months

One of the world’s leading brain injury researchers recommends that children under age 18 should sit out of sports participation for three months after suffering a concussion. This statement was made by Dr. Bennet Omalu, co-founder of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University, on February 1, 2010, while testifying at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of injuries in collegiate and youth football. (See AP story here.)

Dr. Omalu was the expert who discovered the condition called chronic traumatic encephalaopathy (CTE), a form of degenerative, permanent brain damage which can be caused by repeated concussions.

In an earlier committee meeting (January 2009), Dr. Omalu explained that concussions cause damage to brain structures at the cellular and sub-cellular levels. After concussion, some genes get “turned on” and cause a type of protein (APP, or amyloid precursor protein) to accumulate in brain cells and nerve fibers. APP is strongly associated with Alzheimers disease and other degenerative brain disorders.

So concussion increases APP. And APP is related to brain degeneration.

Here’s the kicker:  After a concussion, it take 3 months for all the extra APP to disappear. That’s why Dr. Omalu recommends that children stay out of sports (and other vigorous activities that could reinjure the brain) for 3 months. Adults should probably also be sidelined for that long, but it would be next to impossible to regulate when a 250-pound star football player can run back out onto the field.

Logical, right?

Except that the sports most likely to result in concussion are the same ones that value toughness and a certain degree of violence. According a report in the New York TImes (12/10/2009),

“…one day after the N.F.L. decided that no player showing any significant sign of concussion could return to a game, several players at Tustin High School in California admitted they still wouldn’t tell a trainer if they got hurt.”

And, from the DailyMe

In the immortal words of U.S. Representative Ted Poe, R-Texas, “I mean if Congress gets involved, it would be the end of football as we know it…. We would all be playing touch football out there.”

It’s one thing to voluntarily damage your brain if you’re an adult, but we need to protect kids from activities that could cause them a lifetime of misery…or even a premature death. A single concussion can have devastating consequences. A Bellevue, Washington boy, Zachery Lystedt, is still learning to walk again after a severe concussion he got playing football when he was 13.

It is imperative that doctors, schools, coaches, and parents all cooperate for the health of our children. Concussions need to be diagnosed properly–as mild traumatic brain damage–and treated with the same care, respect, and time we give to other serious injuries. A broken collarbone means 3 months of down-time from sports. A child’s brain deserves at least the same amount of time to heal.

(For more info on APP and neurodegeneration, click here.)

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