It's a classic Catch-22: While kids who play sports are more likely to suffer a concussion, they seem to recover faster if they had already spent a lot of time on the field.
So finds research that discovered kids who played a sport for at least seven years and had experienced a concussion recovered faster than kids with less experience who experienced a concussion. The study authors think the more experienced players may have a motor skill-related "reserve" that helps them recover.
"It seems like the more years you are doing complicated things [in sports], the better able you are to do them after recovering from a concussion," said study senior author Lauren Sergio. She's a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences and the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Toronto.
Sergio said this doesn't mean safety protocols should be ignored, however. "I don't think parents need to pull children out of sports, but they need to do it safely and follow concussion protocols. Keeping them in sports keeps them building up their motor skill reserve," she explained.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, more than 800 000 kids under 17 were treated for concussions in the United States, the CDC said.
Concussion can cause a range of short- and long-term problems. Concussions can affect thinking and memory, vision, balance, language and emotions, according to the CDC.
Once someone has had a concussion, the risk of having another is greater during the next six to 12 months, the study authors said.
Their study looked at 126 Canadian youngsters who played hockey, soccer or lacrosse – all were between the ages of 8 and 17. About half the group had a history of sports-related concussion and the other half didn't.
The kids who had suffered a concussion had no ongoing symptoms of a concussion and were cleared to play based on concussion protocol guidelines.
Mimicking the conditions
All participants were asked to perform to visual-motor skill tasks over 20 trials on a touch-screen laptop.
In the first task, kids had to follow a moving target on the screen using their hand.
In the second task, they had to move their hand in the opposite direction of the moving target. This task mimics the conditions that might be faced by a hockey player passing the puck to a teammate who's on his left while skating to the right, the researchers explained.
Those with seven or more years of sports experience and a history of concussion had quicker reaction times at 12 months compared to their peers with less than six years of sports experience who also had a concussion.
"Some of the kids with less sports experience were still lagging two seasons later," Sergio said.
The brain's plasticity
Dr. Ajay Misra, chairman of neurosciences at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, NY, reviewed the findings and said, "This study is interesting, but it raises more questions than it answers."
For example, he said, this study found no differences based on age or sex, but typically the older you are, the greater the risk from concussion, and female athletes are usually considered at higher risk for longer-term problems from a concussion.
Misra said it seems if someone has had a past concussion, it may precondition the brain to recover faster. "We know that the brain has plasticity," he said.
The bottom line, he said, is that sports aren't going away and children should be active, but they should also be safe. Like author Sergio, Misra also recommended following return-to-play concussion protocol guidelines.
The findings were published recently in the European Journal of Sport Science.
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