A recent story in the Chicago Tribune drew attention to a growing body of research suggesting that young soccer players may be at risk for brain injuries, especially concussions. IBJI’s Dr. Gregory Portland and Dr. David Garelick contacted the Tribune after this important story ran to share additional information for parents and young players.

With nearly 25 million players, soccer is now the second-most popular sport among American kids. Given the mass appeal of this contact sport, Dr. Portland and Dr. Garelick believe it’s extremely important that families understand the risks, as well as best practices for pre-screening, diagnosis and evaluation.

According to Dr. Portland, injury identification in youth sports is of primary importance. In his opinion, trainers and physicians are doing a much better job at identifying the presence of concussions and following a standardized treatment algorithm. “Thankfully, awareness has also improved significantly,” says Dr. Portland. “Today’s parents and young athletes are more likely to consult doctors and school trainers about a suspected injury than they were in years past.” Return to play decisions are difficult to make, but they are also of critical importance. A seemingly “normal” athlete, says Dr. Portland, may still have subclinical symptoms, which can be aggravated by something as seemingly innocuous as heading a soccer ball.

The larger concern for many IBJI sports medicine specialists is that young athletes are increasingly playing single sports year-round. Dr. Portland asks, “Should we really be surprised when there is an increase in concussions or ACL tears when adolescent athletes practice four days a week and play four soccer games in weekend tournaments for much of the year? Or should we be surprised when there is an epidemic of Tommy John surgery for the elbow for adolescent baseball players who play year round?” He cautions parents and athletes who want desperately to play at that next level to consider the risks carefully.

Dr. Garelick emphasizes that one of the most important resources that parents of children who play contact sports should be aware of is baseline concussion testing. These computerized neurocognitive tests are conducted before an injury occurs. In the event of a concussion, these tests provide a norm for each patient and can prove invaluable to medical professionals tracking the cognitive status of that child during recovery. “At Illinois Bone & Joint Institute,” says Dr. Garelick, “we think these baseline concussion tests are so important that we offer them at no cost to athletes ages 10 and older.” IBJI encourages parents of all young athletes, not just those playing soccer, to understand these tests and how they can keep children safer.

At IBJI, concussion services cover the full spectrum of concussion management from baseline testing through post-injury evaluation, management, treatment and return to activity clearance. The IBJI collaborative approach offers patients a team comprised of Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Certified Athletic Trainers, and Physical and Vestibular Therapists to facilitate a smooth and expedition recovery and to ensure patients return to activities safely. For more information about IBJI’s baseline concussion testing and post-concussion evaluation and management program, please visit http://www.ibjirehab.com/sports-medicine/concussion-management/