As parents, our children’s safety is always at the forefront of our minds. We share so many amazing and exhilarating moments with them, but in an instant we can encounter frightening situations that call for a brave face even though the storm of uncertainty is brewing within us.
My son, Murphy, is passionate about playing football. Along with that passion comes bumps, bruises, and a fair share of helmet clashing. The physical intensity and risk of injury rises each year as he ages, and his practice schedule is a grueling 6-8 hour-per-week regimen. Murphy managed to play relatively injury free until well into his third year in 2012.
During a practice, Murphy was working through a drill. Helmets collided at just the wrong angle, and it immediately became clear that my son needed professional medical attention. My wife and I drove him to the ER for CAT scans and neck X-rays. The doctors diagnosed Murphy with a concussion, which is all too common in youth football. He was fortunately cleared of any other serious injuries that could have accompanied the blow to his head.
For the next two weeks, Murphy was under the care of the physicians and technicians at Florida Hospital’s Sports Concussion Program. He was given a series of tests designed to measure his concentration, verbal memory, design memory, memory processing abilities, and reaction time. He missed about a week and a half of school – no exercise for the body or the brain was allowed. He had to limit visual stimulus like TV and video games (the hardest part of the entire experience for him). Over the first several days he was instructed to keep the lights off and just rest. The more he stimulated his brain, the longer it would take him to return to “cognitive baseline”- the point at which he could resume normal activity.
After a few weeks, Murphy returned back to normal. Reintroducing physical activity was a gradual process, beginning with closely supervised cardiovascular exercise and slowly increasing the intensity and type of drills and practice.
It felt like forever to Murphy, who was anxious to get back on the field with his teammates. But returning to play too soon after a concussion can lead to serious, possibly catastrophic, injury. We wanted to go slowly and have confidence that he was safe and ready to return to play.
Murphy successfully completed the rehabilitation process without suffering any additional symptoms. In just under three weeks, he was able to return to play. But every child and every injury is different, and some kids may take longer to recover from a concussion.
Football is a contact sport and injuries can occur, but there are many things we can do to reduce the risk of serious injury. It is crucial to recognize immediately that a concussion has occurred. Johnson & Johnson’s partner, Safe Kids Worldwide, has a helpful concussion guide for parents that helps you spot the symptoms and know what to do next.
It’s important not to take any chances when it comes to concussions. A young athlete with a suspected concussion should be immediately sidelined until they’re evaluated (and ultimately released) by a medical professional. The most important thing is to protect players who have had a concussion from getting another one. A good rule of thumb is: when in doubt, sit them out.
This will be Murphy’s fifth season playing tackle football and he has never loved it more. As a football dad, the fear of injury is never far from my mind. But the pride I have in my son’s hard work and dedication to the sport makes it a little bit easier to cope with. The lessons he learns on the field and with his team will help shape his character and help him grow into the man that I want him to become.
I hope our story helps you better identify, prepare for, and manage these injuries for your children.
More Resources to Prevent Youth Sports Injuries
Read J&J mom Christine’s story of what she learned about preventing youth related sports injuries when her son sustained a baseball injury.
This article is intended to contain general information and should not be considered a substitute for, and does not provide, medical advice. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical health or the health of your children, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and may not reflect those of Johnson & Johnson.
Chris Allredge is the Head of Operations for the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his wife and son and can frequently be found at a friendly neighborhood poker game.