WebMD Now: Concussion Discussion

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Football. It's the most popular sport in the US. But for parents and players alike, the dangers of concussion are making many rethink the merits of America's game.

A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by a direct blow to the head or body that makes the brain bounce around inside the skull. Though concussions are rarely life-threatening, the effects of a concussion-- especially repeated concussions-- can be very serious and cause long-term damage to the brain. So how can we keep the players safe?

First, you have to know one when you see one. Concussions usually happen after a hard blow on the field. Coaches and training staff must know what to look for, but parents, too, ought to be familiar with the danger signs. If someone shows any of these tell-take signs of concussion either during or any time after the game, make sure they stop playing right away and get them an appointment with their doctor.

But the real key is prevention. While no helmet offers complete protection, that's the place to start. The helmet should be snug.

If you can slide or move it around easily, it's too big. The ear holes should align with the ears. This ensures that the helmet sits properly on the head. The chinstrap must be snug, too.

Have your kid yawn with the strap in place. He should feel the helmet pull down a bit. That means it's a good fit. He should wear the helmet during games, practice, or any time contact may happen. No exceptions.

Now, about that contact. Coaches and parents need to teach kids to take their head out of the game. That means keeping your head up when you're tackling and leading with your shoulder. That way, we'll have fewer blows to the head and fewer concussions.

Even with a proper helmet and technique, some research suggests that no amount of full contact can be considered truly safe for children. Some experts think kids under 14 shouldn't play tackle football. Whether or not a child participates in America's most popular sport is a decision for parents to make. If you've given your kid the green light to hit the grid iron, equip him with what he needs to play hard and play safe.