Covid restrictions led to a rise in concussions among children playing contact sports, says leading physiotherapist

Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing rules led to a rise in concussions among children after they resumed contact sports, a conference in Dublin has been told.

Hartered physiotherapist Megyn Robertson, who runs pediatric and adolescent concussion clinics in South Africa and has worked in Kerry and Dublin, revealed how Covid restrictions have had a significant impact on children’s ability to be physically active.

“The deconditioning occurred as a result of social distancing, school closures, which impacted the cardiovascular fitness of otherwise healthy, unaffected children,” she said.

Similar problems can arise after the school or Christmas holidays or a period of illness, and children should not return directly to contact sports, she told the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists annual meeting.

“They say for professional athletes that a two-week vacation will set them back at least six weeks in their training.

“My focus is generally on upper body strengthening, like jungle gyms at the park or wheelbarrow races with their kids at home, seeing if they can do 10+ push-ups, playing rough and tumble with the kids, throwing different sized balls with different Speeds and altitudes so they work on their reaction time… it’s not about having them train seven days a week.”

She told the Association of Registered Physiotherapists in Ireland: “I can say that clinically the children are generally weaker – particularly the shoulder, girdle and neck are rounder and weaker, most likely from more computers, mobile phones and the use of X- Box and less physical outdoor play. They have slower reaction times and a rounder, less athletic physique.”

There are a number of risk factors for concussions in adolescents, including a larger head-to-body ratio and weaker neck muscles.

“A thinner skull suggests younger people are more vulnerable…brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 25.”

She added: “Reaction time is an important indicator to avoid concussion. The faster their reaction time, the more likely they are to protect their head from severe impacts – as they are better at anticipating hits and reducing the severity of the impact on their head.

“They can also spot objects coming at them faster, which means they have more time to dodge.”

In summary, she said, “We can surmise that two years of inactivity would leave children and adolescents – already with age risk factors – deconditioned, with weaker neck muscles and slower reaction speeds, which is the perfect storm for concussion to occur.”

She told the conference, “Proper management of concussion in adolescents requires a delicate balance of clinical skill, age-appropriate assessment, and individualized treatment to achieve optimal outcomes.”

“It’s just the general conditioning that comes from staying active — taking a family hike, riding a bike, and playing in the park — especially after a period of illness or inactivity. We really need to empower our kids during the holidays,” she said.

“I’m not trying to tell parents who are already pushing their kids to do more. All I’m saying is if your kid plays contact sports, they need to be stronger than they are right now – the general population – not the child prodigies who play three different national sports.” Covid restrictions led to a rise in concussions among children playing contact sports, says leading physiotherapist

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