Going back to school means more time on the playground, the soccer field and the basketball court. Playing outside and being involved in sports is a great way to develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination and socialization skills, but head injuries, particularly concussions, are common in children who participate in these activities. So what can parents do to prevent head injuries in children?
Concussions are a type of mild traumatic brain injury that occurs as a result of shear force. A direct blow to the head does not need to occur to suffer a concussion. For example, whiplash can cause a concussion due to the shearing force. Although no proven medication exists to prevent or treat concussions, there are non-pharmacological ways to prevent them. Car seats, seat belts and helmets are very common safety gear that, if worn correctly, can prevent concussions.
Car seats and seat belts
There are different types of car seats depending upon the child’s age and weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants and children up to 2 years of age should be placed in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat of the car. When children outgrow rear-facing car seats, they should be placed in front-facing car seats in the back seat of the car up until 5 years of age. Children ages 5 through 9 years should be placed in properly fitted booster seats and should sit in the back seat with the seat belt appropriately fastened. The CDC also recommends: “Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt fits across the chest (not the neck). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall. For the best possible protection keep children properly buckled in the back seat.”
Helmets are also another form of safety precautions that should be worn by children when riding a bicycle, skateboarding, rollerblading, horseback riding, playing contact sports, playing baseball, and when skiing or snowboarding. Helmets help protect against skull fractures and major traumatic brain injuries, but do not specifically protect against concussions because the brain is free floating within its space, allowing for axonal shearing. According to studies: “The average NFL player takes more than 600 helmet hits a season, ranging from 20 g’s of force to more than 150. (For reference, your average roller coaster ride tops out at 5 g’s.) It typically takes about 100 g’s to cause a concussion.” Experiments have explored the use of magnets in helmets that could reduce 140 gram hits down to 88 grams of force. These magnets are only projected to work in head-to-head collisions and they are still in the experimental stages. These are not a cure and are not used for complete prevention, but they may help inhibit some of the direct force caused by blows to the head.
Signs of a concussion
It is important to recognize signs of concussions such as headache, dizziness, confusion and other concentration problems. Although there is no specific prevention or cure, always remember to wear a helmet, wear a seat belt and sit in a car seat if required. Major traumatic brain injuries can affect the rest of a child’s life.
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