Most people associate youth head injuries with contact sports such as football and soccer, but Dr. Tyler Menke of Decorah says concussions can also occur on the playground.
The most common head injury is concussion, when the brain forcefully slides against the inner skull due to a violent impact. Every concussion injures your brain to some extent; however, most concussions are minor and heal on their own with physical and mental rest.
"Head injuries are common in children and youth, especially if they are active," says Dr. Menke, a family medicine physician with Mayo Clinic Health System at Winneshiek Medical Center. "If a child or teenager experiences a head injury, be sure to encourage rest, both physically and mentally, and observe their behavior following the injury."
Dr. Menke suggests watching for symptoms of trauma, such as headache, disorientation, nausea or vomiting, short term memory loss, ringing in the ears, slurred speech or tiredness. "Symptoms of a head injury may not begin immediately, so continue monitoring the progression of symptoms for a few hours up to a few days," says Dr. Menke. "If you notice changes in behavior or they become physically ill, seek emergency care. Otherwise, make an appointment with your primary care provider within one to two days for follow up care."
Dr. Menke also reminds athletes, coaches and parents that head injuries should be evaluated directly following the incident, not at the end of the practice or game. "We find that teenage athletes tend to dismiss the symptoms they are feeling so they can continue playing. Head injuries are serious, and if a player has a concussion, they should rest until medically evaluated. Regardless of the athlete's condition, research suggests he or she should not return to the game the same day. Although this may not be the popular decision, it is best for the athlete's health."
Many injuries can be prevented with the appropriate safety gear. Dr. Menke says, "Basic safety measures reduce your chances of injury – to the head or other parts of your body. Contact activities on the playground or the field carry risk. Be sure to consider measures to keep everyone safe."