Concussions: New guidelines for kids lead to faster recovery, better outcomes

Between 1.1 million and 1.9 million children and teens have a concussion every year. It's an all too common injury that needs to be taken seriously.

For years, there have been strict rules about what kids can and cannot do after a concussion, but now that's changing.

Now, new guidelines, the first update in eight years, are relaxing the rules a bit. Doctors say it will make things a little easier for kids to recover both physically and mentally.

Angelo Neumann had four concussions by the time he was 9.

"At home, we just have to be extra cautious that he doesn't hit his head," said Mark Neumann, Angelo's dad.

Hali Jester, who is a softball standout, had a concussion too. She didn't sit out to recover, then unfortunately suffered another bad hit.

Jester said, "I don't like to sit out. I don't like to miss anything, and I didn't take care of myself. I didn't realize how serious this could be."

Dr. Mark Halstead is a pediatric sports medicine specialist with Washington University, St. Louis. He and other pediatricians say it's crucial to take concussions seriously.

"When athletes continue to play after their concussion and they don't come out immediately, those kids have much worse symptoms and it actually oftentimes doubles their recovery time," he said.

Previous guidelines advised complete rest for the brain after a concussion.

"We had some people who said, 'that doesn't sound exactly right' because we've tried that with things in medicine before that doesn't usually get people better," Dr. Halstead said.

New guidelines have switched up that old thinking.

Experts say, while kids don't go back to normal activity right away, light exercise like a 20-minute brisk walk as early as a day after an injury can be beneficial.

Dr. Halstead explained, "The research out there shows that when we start doing some light physical activity earlier on in the process, people recover quicker."

Previous guidelines also suggested limiting electronics. But cutting off a teen's social network can lead to isolation, anxiety and depression. The new rules suggest that some use of devices is okay.

"We don't want someone to be, you know, on restricted use of them, but also that there's no harm necessarily in using them," Dr. Halstead said.

Another change: kids shouldn't be kept out of school for a prolonged time, but limiting academic workload may be necessary.

It's all about moderation, as too much physical or mental exertion before the brain has fully recovered can both prolong recovery and worsen outcome of a concussion.

The most important thing - getting a child evaluated and treated right away.

According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, concussions ranked highest in boys' tackle football followed by lacrosse, ice hockey and wrestling.

And in girls' sports, soccer reported the most incidents followed by lacrosse, field hockey and basketball.
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