Concussions and Youth Sports: Local Doc Weighs In on Debate

If he had a son, the president probably would not let him play football. But a doctor at All Children's Hospital who has treated many concussions said his boy will be free to get on the gridiron.

Football and hard hits go together like beer and chicken wings.

But the debate over concussions and player safety has intensified, with President Barack Obama saying he would have to think “long and hard” if he had a son who asked to play football.

While NFL players are adults who know the risks they are taking, some say, the same can’t always be said for youth athletes — and that has many parents and medical professionals concerned.

“We have always seen concussions but there is more emphasis on their diagnosis and recognition,” said Dr. Patrick Mularoni, who works in the emergency room and the sports medicine concussion clinic at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The majority of concussions in young athletes are occurring during football for boys and on the soccer field for girls, Mularoni said. 

New state legislation was introduced last year that requires any youth suspected of receiving a concussion to be immediately removed from a game or practice, unable to return until they obtain medical clearance from a medical professional.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Mularoni said of the bill.

Mularoni, who said he will let his son play football, said it is important to recognize the signs of a concussion right away, which may include a multitude of symptoms, including sensitivity to light or noise and confusion. Only 10 percent of athletes lose consciousness when they suffer a concussion, Mularoni said.

You cannot see a concussion, but it is damage to the brain "on the cellular level," Mularoni said.

Coaches can help keep young athletes stay safe, of course. But Mularoni said there are things mom and dad can do, too.

Here are some tips:

1.)  Open a dialogue with your sports league, Mularoni says. Ask questions about the group’s policy on concussions.

2.)  Create a dialogue with your child. Be sure they understand concussion symptoms and that not reporting problems in order to keep up playing time is unacceptable.

3.)  Encourage youth to play and tackle appropriately. Keep the head up and away from contact.

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