Investigating Youth Football and Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries common in young athletes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

It can happen anywhere, anytime. Maybe you've taken a fall, been in an accident, or had a sports injury and didn't feel quite right afterward. That persistent headache, blurry vision, trouble concentrating and sensitivity to light are all warning signs of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month — a good time to examine TBIs among young athletes, a group often affected by these injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a TBI can disrupt the normal functions of the brain. TBIs can range from mild concussions to severe, life-threatening injuries.

Concussions can have dire consequences for young athletes. dailyRx News spoke with the family of one Austin, TX, teen who sustained three concussions in one football game.

Matt Reed was a smart, tough 13-year-old who loved football's fitness and friendships. That is, until he sustained three concussions during one tackle football game in October 2013.

Matt's mother, Jane Reed, said, “I saw him get up dizzy. He was pointing the wrong way, walking the wrong way. He started holding his head and there were tears coming out of his eyes."

Matt knew something was wrong, too, and by the time his parents picked him up after the game, his body was showing all the warning signs of a concussion: headaches, dizziness, slurred speech and amnesia.

"There is no way to prepare as a parent to watch your kid in such pain," Jane Reed said.

It's been two years, and the Reed family is still recovering from the impact of that evening. Matt was confined to a dark room for days. It was six weeks before he could begin classes, and even then, he had to have a reduced workload. Reed endured physical therapy, balance training, vision therapy, psychotherapy, but the migraines, trouble focusing, and memory problems continue 17 months after the incident.

“It was kind of weird how it affected school and I couldn't perform at my best," Matt said. "I used to be able to read a book in a few hours and now I have to reread it and I still can’t remember parts of it. It’s super upsetting."

In an interview with dailyRx News, board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Kimberly A. Arlinghaus, of Cedar Park Psychiatry in Texas, said, "It's really important to pay attention to these lingering cognitive problems with processing information. All of a sudden you're not absorbing information the way you used to, but you really don't understand why. That's when secondary problems with psychiatric issues are very, very common."

Concussion patients can become depressed or anxious, and seeking therapy is important to recovery, Dr. Arlinghaus said.

Matt Reed's parents are working to help him understand how his life has changed. Postconcussive syndrome is a complex disorder in which symptoms like headaches and dizziness last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury.

Check out the dailyRx News video feature for the full story.

Review Date: 
March 12, 2015