‘Invisible Injuries’ — What parents need to know

WEST MICHIGAN -  Chances are, if your child plays a sport, they’ve suffered some sort of injury, but there are plenty of things parents, coaches, and doctors are doing to keep kids safe and to help them recover faster.

Adam Schultz, Assistant Soccer Coach at North Muskegon High School knows injuries come with the territory. He feels the benefits outweigh the risks, but not at the cost of safety.

He learned this first-hand when his son, Trevor, got hurt in a basketball game.

Schultz said, “His hip hit him in the ribs and damaged his kidney.”

Even scarier, no one could tell anything was wrong until Trevor finally spoke up.

“He’s pretty quiet and he doesn’t want to be a bother, so when he came to us, we pretty much knew something was happening” Schultz said.

That’s why he says as a coach and a parent, it’s important to be involved.

“Some players, it’s hard to identify that stuff because they don’t want to be hurt,” said Schultz “They don’t want to tell you they’re hurt, so sometimes you have to pull it outta them, sometimes it’s obvious.”

Head Athletic Trainer at Grandville High School, Michael Seger, has been with the school for 25 years.

He said, “Most often we see ankle injuries, sprains, we see knee injuries with sprains, muscle injuries such as muscle pulls, muscle spasms, we see shoulder injuries and some concussions, bruises.”

If a player is  hurt, they can get taped up and go back in, but if something looks too swollen or their muscle strength decreases, then that athlete is taken out of participation.

If the injury is serious, it might require a referral to a doctor or specialist.  When they’re ready to get back into the game, the rehab begins.

Seger said “Icing, heating, modalities, strength training, PNF balance training to actually get them back out there. Once they are back out there, they work with our strength and conditioning coach to get above and beyond what they were before so  they’re bigger, better, faster, stronger.”

Perhaps the most elusive of these injuries is concussions. Symptoms  can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, amnesia, memory issues and just not feeling right.

Seger said athletes will sometimes try to hide those symptoms, especially in a big game.

“It’s those athletes when it’s the fourth quarter of a football game and ‘no no no’ they deny their symptoms, just because they want to go back in.”

That’s exactly what Dr. Michael Lawrence, Spectrum Health’s Chief of Neuropsychology, doesn’t want.

He said, “We say it’s like a snow globe that gets shaken up. All these gates in your brain that are normally shut when you do something, suddenly fly open and stay open.”

Basically, your brain turns into an engine in overdrive, which explains one of the most common concussion symptoms: fatigue.

Dr. Lawrence says the first step if a coach, player, or parent suspects a concussion is simple: When in doubt, sit them out.

The next step is simple too.

“The more you sleep, the better. Rest is extremely important because that’s how the brain heals.”

He suggests keeping student-athletes out of school for the first day or two, but if they’re still having symptoms after three or four days, it’s time to see a doctor.

“Waiting three or four weeks isn’t helpful, actually kids, we see the longer they wait, they get worse.”

Doctors can run a series of tests where they look your balance, as well as cognitive, vestibular, and eye function.

Taking all those results, they can decide which part of the brain is affected and then put together a “return to learn” and a “return to play” program.

Dr. Lawrence said “The problem is that can cause all kinds of problems with school, you can imagine with reading, with computer use. So, sometimes the treatment is as easy as limiting those activities while that system heals.”

Both Dr. Lawrence and Seger said getting athletes moving as soon as possible is paramount in their recovery, but to do it safely.

“If an athlete has a concussion and you get them aerobically active, you get them exercising and running, symptoms may get worse, but it won’t prolong their recovery.”

Dr. Lawrence said  while they are concerned about multiple concussions, there’s no magic number that determines when it’s time to stay on the bench for good.

“The more we educate them, the more we help them understand what’s  happening in their brain and the more ways we give them to rehab it so they feel like they’re in control of this illness, the better they get.”

There are several injury prevention resources from the Michigan High School Association of Athletics, including insurance information that can help cover medical costs of seeing a doctor.

Links are provided below:

MHSAA Insurance Information

MHSAA Health Portal

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