Causes and Risk Factors for Concussion

Concussion occurs when the brain is forced against the skull, causing injury that temporarily impairs brain function. Concussions in children often are caused by motor vehicle accidents, falls, and collisions that result in a blow or jolt to the head during recreational sports and physical activities. Child abuse (e.g., shaken baby syndrome) is another common cause for concussions in children.

Proper use of child car safety seats (until a child is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 80 pounds) and seat belts can reduce the risk for concussions caused by motor vehicle accidents. Children under the age of 12 should always ride in the back seat of the car.

Children are at increased risk for concussions due to falls. To reduce the risk, parents and caregivers should supervise young children closely, keep floors as clutter-free as possible, place toddler gates at the tops and bottoms of staircases, and make sure all railings are secure.

Children should not be allowed to climb or jump on furniture or to play on balconies or fire escapes. Window screens are not designed to prevent falls. If possible, use window guards or open windows from the top instead of the bottom.

Parents and caregivers also should make sure to assess all play structures and play areas for fall risks. Playgrounds should have wood chips or springy material beneath climbing structures to reduce the risk for concussion from a fall.

Participation in any activity that can result in a blow or jolt to the head increases the risk for concussion. Children and adolescents who participate in sports such as boxing, football, hockey, baseball, golf, and soccer, or in recreational activities, such as bicycling, horseback riding, skiing, inline skating, and skateboarding are at increased risk. Protective head gear and helmets can reduce the risk for concussions. Some studies have shown that mouth guards also may reduce the risk and severity of concussions by absorbing some of the impact during a collision, but this remains controversial.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 28 Jul 2010