When Kids Have Concussions

A new program helps young athletes get back in the game—safely.



Andrew Patterson, whose vision is being evaluated here at the Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute, hopes to return to the soccer field this spring.

Andrew Patterson was playing soccer for his Hillsborough High School team last October when an opponent accidentally hit him in the head with an elbow. “Things got hazy,” the 17-year-old says, and although he kept playing for a few minutes, the referee soon noticed that he looked “off.” The team trainer pulled him out of the game, and when headaches and a “weird feeling” persisted into the next day, his parents knew just where to take him: Saint Peter’s Healthcare System’s new pediatric concussion management program.

The program, a service of the Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute, is headed by Arlene Goodman, M.D., a pediatric sports medicine physician who is an expert in the treatment of concussions in children and adolescents. It is the first in New Jersey to combine physical and cognitive testing with and medical diagnosis and rehabilitation services under a single roof in the treatment of young athletes who have suffered a concussion on the playing field. It also includes social work outreach to area schools, in which experts talk with coaches about preventing concussions and recognizing them when they occur.

“The program is designed to improve pathways of care for concussion patients—that is, getting them quickly to the right place for the treatment they need at every stage,” Dr. Goodman says. Diagnoses of concussions are becoming more frequent, she adds, “mainly because we are getting better at identifying them.” The effects of most concussions ease with rest after three weeks or so, but patients who don’t improve in that time require specialized care. “Our main goal is to get them care sooner so they get better faster,” says the doctor, explaining that children often need longer to recover than do adults.

“People typically think of kids healing more quickly than adults, and with some kinds of injuries they do,” says Dr. Goodman. “But a developing brain takes more time to recover.”

Patterson rested for three weeks but still suffered symptoms, so he began physical therapy under the care of Chuck Bachi, a physical therapist and director of Sports Physical Therapy at Saint Peter’s. “His symptoms were severe,” Bachi says, explaining that they included balance and vision problems, dizziness, headaches and difficulty reading. Patterson did exercises to help his vision and balance and to stretch and strengthen his neck muscles. He went to physical therapy twice a week for about six weeks. “That helped a lot,” Patterson says, and by January he was nearly back to normal and cleared to resume contact sports.

Patterson hopes to return to soccer this spring. “My dad worries that I may have another concussion, and after every practice he says it’s not the end of the world if I don’t play soccer again,” he says. “But it’s a big part of my life. I want to play in college. I am not ready to give it up.”

Be sure coaches are concussion-savvy

Parents should make certain that anyone coaching their children’s sports knows the signs of concussion and knows to take these steps when a young athlete sustains a blow to the head:

  1. Remove the athlete from play. Look for signs and symptoms of a concussion. “When in doubt, sit them out!”
  2. Ensure that the player is evaluated by an appropriate healthcare professional. Taking note of the following information may help those professionals evaluate the injury:
    • Cause of the injury and force of the hit or blow to the head or body.
    • Any loss of consciousness (“passed out”/“knocked out”) and its duration.
    • Any memory loss immediately following the injury.
    • Any seizures immediately following the injury.
    • Number of previous concussions (if any).
  3. Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians and give them the “Heads Up” fact sheet for parents. (You’ll find this at cdc.gov/concussion/pdf/Parents_Fact_Sheet-a.pdf.)
  4. Keep the athlete out of play. An athlete should be removed from play the day of the injury and until an appropriate healthcare professional says he or she is symptom-free and approves his or her return to play.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To find out more about services available at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, please call 732.745.8600 or visit saintpetershcs.com.

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