Children are prone to bumping their head, and so concussions have always been a fairly routine childhood injury. In fact, concussions are “the most common type of head injury we see in kids,” says Anatoly Belilovsky, M.D., a pediatrician in New York. (Sager, 2010) The recent publicity in regards to football concussions has brought greater awareness to this issue, but children sustain concussions from many types of sports other than football, as well as from everyday activities and accidents.

Information about child concussions

A concussion is officially known as a mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI. A concussion occurs when a sudden jolt rattles the brain inside the skull, causing it to twist or pull in sudden, jerky movements. Most concussions are caused by blunt-force trauma to the head, but they can sometimes be caused by whiplash or a sudden acceleration/deceleration, even if a child doesn’t hit their head. (They can also be caused by concussion waves if your child is unlucky enough to get too close to an explosion.)

Why children are at risk for concussions

There are several different reasons that children are especially vulnerable when it comes to concussions. As concussion specialist Dr. Robert Cantu explains, kids “don’t have fully myelinated brains, so the nerve cells and their connections don’t have the coating and insulation of adult brains. In addition, they have disproportionately weak necks compared to adults, and disproportionately large, heavy heads, so they’re like bobble-head dolls. This sets them up for brain injuries that are more serious than those sustained at a later age from the same amount of force.” (Healy, 10-1-2012)

Their young age and immature state of development also means that any brain injuries they sustain could have the potential to be more pronounced. Since damage from a concussion is cumulative, children who sustain concussive brain damage when young may be more likely to show symptoms earlier in life than those who sustain them later. A 20-year-old who sustains damage from a concussion may experience cognitive declines when he’s sixty; whereas the same damage in a 7-year-old may lead to symptoms at age 40. On a positive note, a child’s immature development also means their brain is more malleable and can be quicker to heal, so parents shouldn’t get overly fearful or panic if their child sustains a concussion. But they should have an awareness and understanding of this issue.

Information on youth concussions