Concussions Expert On Youth Sports and Concussions

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Concussions Expert On Youth Sports and Concussions

Premiere Date: 
October 11, 2013

Boston Children's Hospital's William Meehan gave a talk Friday at UW-Madison on the topic.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

We switch from politics to sports and the clash overhead injuries in team sports like football. The most recent PBS Frontline documentary revealed alarming rates of concussions suffered by pro football players. But the risks of concussions and the lifelong health implications start with youth sports. One of the country's leading experts on sports-related concussion is lecturing on the UW-Madison campus today. Dr. William Meehan is the director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Boston Children's Hospital and the director of research for the Brain Injury Center at Boston Children's Hospital. He's also the author of "Kids, Sports and Concussions." He joins us now.

Dr. William Meehan:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

This week's PBS Frontline, as we mentioned, this production saw a lot of viewers captivated, these viewers, and I would think potentially scared them, particularly parents being scared about their kids playing sports. Should there be a fear on the part of parents in terms of getting their kids into sports like football?

Dr. William Meehan:

I don't think so. I think it's more important to have recognition than fear. When I was younger, which wasn't that long ago, people didn't take concussions seriously at all. If an athlete got one, they often continued playing even before they were recovered. I suspect over long careers, you see consequences of that. I think now most people would recognize a concussion, remove the athlete from play, treat them properly, and I suspect the risk of developing those long-term problems will be much less in the future.

Frederica Freyberg:

Do you see in your practice at a children's hospital in particular, a number of concussions coming in from this kind of play?

Dr. William Meehan:

Yeah, definitely. And I think it's a good thing overall. You know, I suspect that maybe there are more concussions happening to some degree, because in general athletes nowadays are larger and stronger and faster, and even developing that strength and skill at a younger age. But more so, I think we're diagnosing more of them. In the past, we probably let a lot of them go undiagnosed. I think it's a good thing we're seeing higher numbers, because I just think they're being recognized.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the long-term implications? Are a certain number of kids getting repeated concussions?

Dr. William Meehan:

Some are and that really is the concern. I think we have to remember that most athletes, if they sustain one or two concussions during their career, they're recognized, managed properly, they can continue playing sports safely. The problems are really if they go back before they're recovered, or if they sustain multiple concussions. Every now and then, we run into that, usually with the older athletes, and we have to have a discussion about the potential risks and whether or not they want to continue in those sports.

Frederica Freyberg:

Have you seen in your research and work as a physician coaches still kind of encouraging players to go back in before they're ready?

Dr. William Meehan:

You know, I don't see it that often in my clinic. I wonder if that's in part because parents that tend to come to our clinics are attentive to this issue and pull their athletes out. Every now and then, a parent will say the coach tried to do it, and the parents intervened, which again, I think is a good thing. In Massachusetts now, coaches have to undergo training about concussions, what is it, what are the symptoms, and it's against the law to return the athlete before they get cleared by a medical provider.

Frederica Freyberg:

Many people think of football when they think of a concussive sport, but soccer, too, is a place where kids or players of any age can get a concussion. Is it the header, the so-called header in soccer that is mostly responsible for that?

Dr. William Meehan:

It's a great question. It is and it isn't. Actually, purposely heading the ball, when an athlete sort of sees it coming, lines up and pushes through the ball does not typically cause concussions, but the act of heading often means you're in the air, there's another athlete who's also attempting to head that ball, many times, so it's a high-risk situation where you might collide heads, or your head might collide with their body, you might get knocked off balance, fall and hit the ground, so concussions occur during the act of heading, but not from heading itself.

Frederica Freyberg:

Some of your research also looks at the difference between concussions in boys and girls. What's that about?

Dr. William Meehan:

There's some evidence that suggests that maybe girls are at higher risk for concussion in sports that have the same rules for boys and girls, like basketball and soccer. I will say it's not consistent. Some studies show that the rates in boys are higher, and some studies show girls are higher. There is some evidence that maybe it takes girls a little bit longer to have resolution of their concussion symptoms. I would say that that evidence is not definitive, but there's enough there that we should investigate it further.

Frederica Freyberg:

It's interesting. It's a good thing for parents to know certainly.

Dr. William Meehan:

Definitely.

Frederica Freyberg:

So as an expert in this field, what message would you relate to parents and players and coaches and even policymakers on this issue?

Dr. William Meehan:

I think there's two main messages for me. One is we need to continue to recognize concussions and manage them properly, because when they're not managed properly, there is a risk of these horrible outcomes that we hear about a lot in the news. The second thing though, is that if they are managed properly, kids can go back to their sport safely and play sports for a lifetime, which I think is important. The worst thing that could happen from all this publicity about concussions is if people stop playing sports, because obviously, the benefits of exercise outweigh any potential risks, especially if we manage these properly.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right, Dr. Meehan, thanks very much.

Dr. William Meehan:

Thanks for having me.


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