There are a few key differences in the brains of children and adults that make children more susceptible to brain injury than adults. The key differences are discussed below.
- The skull of a child is large compared to the size of brain. By 5 years old, a child’s skull is 90% the size of an adult skull and the brain continues to grow in size until about age 18 years or even a bit longer.
- The neck muscles of a child are weaker than adult neck muscles. Getting a hard hit without strong neck muscles to support the head can lead to the “bobblehead doll effect.”
- Children’s brains are continuing to develop rapidly and aren’t fully developed until age 25! One of the ways the brain develops is by adding coating to nerve fibers, called myelin. This is needed to help with nerve communication and for nerve strength. Children’s brains do not have the amount of coating, or myelination, as adult brains. Additionally, nerve fibers in children allow more acceleration of the brain with a big hit, and because the brain is lighter than an adult brain, it can move more easily. This lack of myelin and ability of the brain to move more easily with a head hit leads to it being easier for nerve cells to be torn when injured.
- Children in contact sports are often given older equipment, which leads to increased susceptibility for injury.
- Though definitely not always the case, coaches in children’s contact sports leagues are often less educated on concussion and injury prevention, than coaches for adult sports.
So, if you add together all these factors, we see that the larger skull with a proportionately smaller brain on a weaker neck with nerve cells that aren’t as “strong”, while wearing sub-optimal protective equipment, leaves children and teens more susceptible to concussion than adults.