The Times-Tribune

Is your child too young for contact sports?

Recent evidence fills in some blanks, but questions remain, including safest age to play.

- BY LINDSEY TANNER

New guidance on concussion­s shows there isn’t enough solid evidence to answer some of parents’ most burning questions about contact sports. That includes what age is safest to start playing them.

Pediatric experts in sports medicine, neurology and related fields evaluated and rated three decades of sports concussion-related research. They say recent evidence filled in some blanks. Such as:

Teen girls face higher risks than boys for concussion­s when playing the same sport by the same rules.

Hockey body checking bans reduce concussion­s in players under 13.

Limiting contact in youth tackle football results in fewer head impacts.

“Parents worry, ‘Is one concussion to my child going to result in him having dementia at age 50?’ ” said lead author, Dr. Frederick Rivara. “And the data are pretty clear that the answer is no.”

But it remains uncertain how many concussion­s are too many, when to call it quits, and what are the longterm consequenc­es of multiple concussion­s in youth sports. Still, parents shouldn’t let the unknowns and undue fears keep kids from playing sports, he said.

“The last thing we want to tell kids is not to be active,” said Rivara, a pediatrici­an and injury prevention researcher at the University of Washington’s medical school.

The panel’s consensus statement was published online Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Among the conclusion­s:

Kids should be taught collision techniques before beginning play in contact sports.

There is not conclusive evidence that younger children face higher risks for getting sports-related concussion­s. Evidence is inconclusi­ve

on whether multiple childhood concussion­s are linked with long-term neurologic­al changes.

Technology that measures head impact exposure, and advanced brain imaging techniques, are both experiment­al and not ready for use.

Helmets should be worn in high-impact sports though there’s little or no evidence that headgear prevents concussion in rugby and soccer.

Also called mild traumatic brain injury, concussion­s are caused by a bump or jolt to the head. The impact causes the brain to bounce or twist, potentiall­y damaging brain cells. Repeated concussion­s have been linked with a debilitati­ng brain disease found in autopsies on some retired football players.

More awareness of the potential dangers of concussion­s has led to more reporting but there’s no evidence that there has been a true increase, said Dr. Cynthia Labella, a panel member from Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Labella emphasized that concussion­s can happen in all recreation­al activities and said the physical, mental and social benefits of playing organized sports outweigh the risks of any injury, including concussion­s.

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