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Concussion Clarity: A conversation with Dr. Jeff Kutcher

From headers in soccer to football tackles to hockey hits, today’s student athletes and their parents have many reasons to monitor brain health. Jeff Kutcher, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan and the Director of Michigan NeuroSport, took audience questions in a live webcast on Thursday, August 13th. Watch the full Google Hangout below, or scroll down to read Dr. Kutcher’s take on a few important questions about concussions.

Q: What’s the appropriate age to allow contact in sports?

A: There’s no one age that’s best for each sport. Making that decision depends on the maturity, strength and athleticism of the student athlete, and every athlete needs to be taught how to play the game correctly and avoid injuries. For example, hockey players should learn how not to get hit while out on the ice before it happens. Some contact in sports is important for training and learning, but it’s important to minimize the unnecessary contact.

Q: What should a parent be looking for in their child who may be concussed?

A: It’s important for parents to follow their children’s development during the long-term, because many concussion-like symptoms can manifest in everyday life for reasons other than a concussion. Typical symptoms include headaches, sensitivity to light, nausea, fogginess and memory problems. Parents should also pay attention to subtle personality changes, a reduction in energy or if their child isn’t able to sleep well, especially after a hit in sports.

Q: How do you decide to recommend retirement from contact sports?

A: It’s important to consider both the positive things we’re getting out of sports, like social and cognitive development, and the negative effects from hits or tackles. Counting the number of concussions someone has received shouldn’t be the sole factor for deciding on retirement, but if your athlete seems to experience injuries with less of an impact, a lowering threshold would be one reason to consider reducing exposure.  Also, if you see a change in brain function that you can’t attribute to anything other than exposure to contact, retirement would be recommended. The most important thing is to see a physician to sort through all possible causes for symptoms you’re worried about. When you just ask your son or daughter to stop playing a sport, symptoms like lack of energy or depression could manifest because they’ve stopped doing an activity they love, so don’t make a decision without your doctor.

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Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist, heads the U-M NeuroSport clinic and is an associate professor of neurology at the U-M Medical School. He has earned a worldwide reputation for sports neurology. He’s a team physician for U-M Athletics and co-led the development of the American Academy of Neurology’s new concussion guidelines. Kutcher also serves as team neurologist for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and was Team USA’s neurologist at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

 

University of Michigan NeuroSport is one of only a handful of comprehensive programs in the country dedicated to the neurological concerns of athletes. By drawing on the resources in the health system as well as the rich athletic tradition of a historic NCAA program, we specialize in the treatment and prevention of neurological sports injuries, as well as the management of primary neurological diseases that affect athletic performance.