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What should parents know about concussions? A Stanford expert explains

Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Angela Lumba-Brown
Photo by Andy Abelein

By Erin Digitale

In a roundabout way, Angela Lumba-Brown's early love of basketball shaped her career in medicine.

She played the sport in high school, suffering two concussions along the way. “I had great doctors who were able to explain to me what I was feeling, which added to my rapidly developing interest in how the brain works,” Lumba-Brown, MD, told me recently. I called her to find out what parents and other caregivers should know about children's concussions, the subject of a new Q&A story.

Now a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Stanford Children’s Health, Lumba-Brown treats young patients and conducts brain-injury research. She's also lead author of new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that advise how concussion and other similar brain injuries should be treated in pediatric patients. (The CDC now recommends doctors use the broader term "mild traumatic brain injury" instead of "concussion," as my story explains.)

Children who experience these injuries can generally recover at home, as long as they have the right supports from their families, pediatricians and sports coaches, Lumba-Brown told me.

Avoiding contact sports and other rough-and-tumble activities is an especially critical aspect of recovery, she explained:

Re-injury is the major risk for a child or teenager going home with a mild traumatic brain injury, just as the knee is weaker as it recovers from an injury, and a fall or mis-step could much more easily re-injure it than the other knee. The brain is similar: With another blow to the head, a second injury can occur at a lower threshold of impact... This can be difficult advice for children who thrive on play; we need to ensure the child understands to the best of their ability why they can’t climb trees, head their soccer ball or participate in other activities that could result in re-injury.