Q: [School-Aged] We have a household rule against our boys playing football. With the studies of concussions and injuries to growing bodies, that level of contact worries us. Every Thanksgiving we hear backlash from the extended family about it. Are we overprotective?
A: For children under 12, the most common sports injuries we see aren’t necessarily contact injuries, but rather fractures, growth plate, hand and ankle injuries. At this age, bones are still growing and the growth plate is weaker than the ligament, which means kids rarely suffer from sprains. As they get older, we start seeing more severe sports injuries such as meniscus tears, ACL tears, and dislocations.
When it comes to treating athletes who play contact sports, there is no measurable increase in injuries when it comes to football over soccer. An adolescent typically cannot generate enough force to create a strong impact injury, like the ones seen in adults. In fact, lower impact sports such as soccer are the cause of more orthopedic injuries than football, and even head injuries, like concussions.
Concussions are equally dangerous in kids as in adults. Since there is no way to quantify the severity of a concussion on an MRI or CT scan, the only way to gauge it is through the symptoms, such as headaches, level of concentration, and irritability. Long-term effects are directly related to the number of concussions. The worst thing you can do is get back to playing before your symptoms are completely resolved. What we can do is run tests on reaction time and concentration to determine if the brain has properly healed.
With six children, all athletes, I always encourage them to play safely and protected. From volleyball to water polo to soccer, we’ve seen our fair share of impact injuries, and the best thing you can do is make sure your kids have the proper equipment, like a good helmet and pads. Athletes should always stretch prior to playing and report an injury to prevent long-term damage. So, while you should not be paranoid or overprotective, you should definitely make sure your kids are wearing the appropriate safety and preventative gear available (and required) for their respective sport. And if they do, my philosophy is, let them play.
Frank Giacobetti, MD — NYU School of Med, is a nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and arthroscopic procedures. His passion for sports medicine led him to SoCal. He now leads the OPC medical staff and orthopedic specialists. www.orthopedicpromptcare.com