Understanding your little athlete’s brain MRI: a guide for sports moms and dads

November 10, 2023 – 16 min read

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As parents, we all want the best for our children, especially when it comes to their health and well-being. For sports moms and dads, the thrill of watching your child excel on the field, court, or track is a source of immense pride and joy. 

However, with the joy of physical sport also comes potential sports injuries. When your little athlete sustains a head injury or experiences persistent symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or memory problems, getting a brain MRI can be crucial to determine the extent of the injury. 

If your child needs to undergo a brain MRI, you may feel some anxiety, and your young athlete as well. We are here to help you understand the process, and put your hearts at ease.

Why your child needs a brain MRI

Sports are a great way for children to stay active, develop teamwork and leadership skills, and build self-confidence. However, injuries are a common part of participating in sports. 

When a child suffers a head injury while playing sports, it is crucial to get a detailed picture of any potential damage that might have occurred. This is where a brain MRI (or Magnetic Resonance Imaging) comes in. 

An MRI is a non-invasive imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed medical imaging of the brain and other internal structures. 

Why does a child need a brain MRI after a sports injury? 

When a child sustains a head injury during sports, it can sometimes lead to traumatic brain injury (or TBI). 

A TBI occurs when an external force, like a blow to the head, causes brain dysfunction. TBIs range from mild (a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss). 

Symptoms of a TBI can include headaches, dizziness, vision problems, and changes in behavior or mood. 

A brain MRI can help medical professionals assess the extent of the injury, detect any bleeding or swelling in the brain, and determine the best course of action for treatment.

What types of sports injuries necessitate a brain MRI?

Any head injury sustained during sports that results in symptoms such as loss of consciousness, persistent headache, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, nausea or vomiting, or any other unusual behavior should be evaluated with a brain MRI. 

Common sports-related injuries that might necessitate a brain MRI include concussions, skull fractures, and hematomas (collection of blood outside blood vessels which is dangerous if the bruising occurs under the skull).

How can I be sure my child is safe during a brain MRI?

MRIs are generally considered to be very safe. They do not use ionizing radiation, which is used in some other imaging techniques. 

Instead, MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create images. There are no known harmful side-effects associated with the magnetic fields and radio waves used during the MRI. 

However, it’s important to let the medical staff know if your child has any metal implants, as the magnetic field can interfere with these. 

Additionally, some children might feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic during the MRI, so it’s important to prepare them ahead of time and let them know what to expect. Talking to your child about the procedure and explaining that it is important to stay still during the scan can help ease any anxiety they may have. 

Additionally, some imaging centers may allow a parent to stay in the room with the child during the MRI, which can also be comforting.

Preparing your child for a brain MRI

Facing a brain MRI can be a nerve-wracking experience for any child, but as parents, there are steps that you can take to make the process smoother and less intimidating. In this section, we’ll delve into the essential aspects of preparing your young athlete for their MRI experience. 

We’ll explore how to explain the MRI process in a way that won’t scare them, what necessary preparations you’ll need to consider before the scan, and whether your child can continue with their regular activities leading up to the MRI.

By addressing these key concerns, you can help your little athlete approach their brain MRI with confidence and security.

How can I explain the MRI process to my child without scaring them?

Explaining medical procedures to children can be challenging, but it is important to keep the conversation simple, positive, and reassuring. 

Start by telling your child that the doctors need to take some special pictures of their brain to make sure everything is OK after their injury. 

Explain that the MRI machine is like a big camera that takes pictures of the soft tissues inside the body, in this case, the brain. Reassure them that it doesn’t hurt at all, but it is very important to stay still while the pictures are being taken. 

You can also explain that they might hear some loud noises, like knocking or thumping, but that it’s just the sound of the machine working. Let them know that you will be nearby and that they can talk to you or the technician if they feel uncomfortable at any time.

What will we need to do before the scan?

Before the MRI, you will need to remove all metal objects from your child’s body, including jewelry, hairpins, and glasses, as the MRI machine uses a strong magnet that can attract these items. 

If your child has any metal implants or devices, be sure to inform the medical staff beforehand. 

Your child will be asked to wear a hospital gown or comfortable clothes without any metal zippers or snaps. 

Can my child continue with their regular activities before the MRI?

Yes, your child can continue with their regular activities before the MRI, unless instructed otherwise by the medical staff. 

However, it is important to ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep before the scan, and that they’re as relaxed as possible. Avoid any activities that might make your child anxious or overly excited before the scan.

During your child’s MRI

The moment has arrived, and your child is about to undergo a brain MRI. This section will guide you through what you and your child can expect during this crucial procedure. 

We’ll explore what the MRI experience will be like for your child, the typical duration of the scan, whether you can be present in the room with them, and practical tips to ensure your child’s comfort throughout the process. 

With this information, you can navigate the MRI with confidence, knowing how to support your child every step of the way.

What will the MRI be like for my child?

The MRI machine makes a lot of noise, which can be surprising for children. It is important to let your child know beforehand that the machine will make loud thumping and knocking sounds during the scan, but that it is completely normal and nothing to be worried about. 

They will also need to lie very still on the table during the scan to ensure the images are clear. 

Some facilities have special pediatric MRI machines with colorful designs and even video goggles to help distract and entertain children during the scan. Your child may also be given headphones or earplugs to help block out the noise.

How long does a brain MRI typically take?

The length of a brain MRI can vary depending on what specifically the doctor is looking for, but it typically takes between 30 to 60 minutes. 

It is important to let your child know about the duration of the scan so they can be prepared to stay still for that period of time.

Can I be present in the room during my child’s MRI?

Being present in the room can be very reassuring for your child and can help them stay calm and still during the scan. 

In most cases, parents are allowed to stay in the room with their child during the MRI. You will need to remove all metal objects and change into a hospital gown or metal-free clothing.

What can I do to make my child more comfortable during the scan?

To help make your child more comfortable during the scan, you can talk to them and hold their hand if the MRI machine design allows for it. 

Bringing a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can also be comforting. If your child is feeling anxious, practice deep breathing exercises together to help them relax, or tell them a story. 

Some facilities also allow children to listen to music or watch a movie during the scan, so ask ahead of time if this is an option and plan accordingly.

Understanding your child’s MRI results

As you await the outcome of your child’s brain MRI, it’s essential to be prepared for what comes next. 

In this section, we will walk you through the typical timeline for results availability as well as who will interpret these image scans, and when you can expect to see the results of their findings. 

We’ll also discuss what steps to take if the MRI reveals something of concern. 

How soon will the results be available?

The timeline for receiving your child’s MRI results can vary depending on the facility and the urgency of the situation. However, the images are usually available within a few days after the scan is completed. 

The radiologist, a doctor specialized in interpreting medical images, will then analyze the images which can take a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the radiologist.*

Who will interpret the results?

The radiologist who analyzes the images is also the specialist who will interpret the results, looking for any abnormalities or injuries in your child’s brain. They will then prepare a report with their findings. Your imaging center will then send this report to your healthcare provider, who will then discuss the results with you.

When will I get to see my child’s MRI results?

You will usually be able to discuss your child’s MRI results with the provider who ordered the scan within a few days of the MRI. 

However, this can vary depending on the facility and the urgency of the situation. It is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with your child’s doctor to discuss the results and any necessary next steps.

What are the next steps if the results show something concerning?

If the MRI results show any abnormalities or injuries, the next steps will depend on the nature and severity of the findings. Your child’s doctor will discuss the results with you in detail and will recommend a course of action. 

This may involve further testing, consultation with a specialist, or starting a treatment plan. It is important to ask any questions you may have and to fully understand the recommended course of action. 

Remember, your child’s health and well-being are the top priority, and it is important to address any concerning findings as soon as possible.

After your child’s brain MRI

Once the brain MRI is complete, there are important considerations to ensure your child’s well-being and a smooth transition back to their normal routine. In this section, we’ll address common concerns that parents may have after the MRI.

These concerns may include potential side effects from the procedure, how to care for your little athlete after the scan, and any activities they should avoid. 

Also, we’ll cover how best to initiate a conversation with your healthcare provider regarding your child’s return to sports. 

Understanding these crucial aspects will help you provide the best possible support for your child’s recovery and future athletic endeavors.

Are there any side effects of the MRI that parents should be aware of?

Fortunately, MRI scans are non-invasive and do not involve radiation, so there are typically no side effects. 

However, if your child was given a contrast agent during the MRI, there is a small chance they could have a reaction to it. Signs of a reaction may include hives, itching, or difficulty breathing. 

While these reactions are rare, it is important to monitor your child and seek medical attention immediately if you notice any unusual symptoms.

How should I care for my child after the MRI?

After the MRI, your child should be able to resume their normal activities. However, if they were given sedation during the scan, they may feel drowsy or nauseous afterward. 

Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and stays hydrated. It is also important to monitor your child for any unusual symptoms and to seek medical attention if needed.

Is there anything my child should avoid after the MRI?

There are typically no restrictions after an MRI, and your child should be able to resume their normal activities. 

However, if your child was given sedation, they may need to avoid certain activities, such as climbing, jumping or other vigorous activity, for a period of time. They also should eat and drink only lightly until the sedation wears off.

Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions based on your child’s situation.

How should I talk to my healthcare provider about when my child can return to sports?

It is crucial to have a discussion with your healthcare provider about when your child can safely return to sports. 

This will depend on the nature and severity of your child’s injury, as well as their overall health and fitness level. Your healthcare provider will be able to provide guidance on what activities are safe for your child to participate in and any necessary precautions or modifications that should be made.

How to schedule your child’s MRI appointment with us

Reach out to us at American Health Imaging, and we’ll help you schedule an appointment at an imaging center near you, today. 

We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Frequently asked questions

Why does a child need a brain MRI after a sports injury?

A brain MRI can help in detecting any internal injuries or abnormalities after a sports injury which might not be visible through a physical examination.

You can explain to your child that an MRI is like taking pictures of the inside of their head to make sure everything is okay after their injury. Reassure them that it’s a painless and safe procedure, and let them know that the equipment will probably make knocking and buzzing noises as it takes the pictures.

Yes, your child can continue with their regular activities before the MRI unless advised otherwise by your healthcare provider.

Generally, parents are not allowed in the MRI room during the scan itself, but you can always check with the facility as some do allow parents to stay and hold hands, after ensuring they have no metal or conditions that would make it unsafe to be in the room during the scan.

The results are usually available within a few days; the exact timeline can vary based on the facility and whether the cause for the MRI is an emergency.

MRI is a non-invasive and safe procedure, so there are usually no side effects, but your child might feel a bit tired or dizzy after lying still for a long time. Common side effects may also include headache and nausea for a brief period if their MRI requires contrast, as well as feeling itchy, or a rash at the injection site.

It’s important to have a thorough discussion with your healthcare provider about the results of the MRI, any treatment needed, when they can resume regular activities such as school, and a safe timeline for increasing activity and returning to sports.

If the results show something concerning, your healthcare provider will discuss the findings with you, suggest any necessary treatments or follow-up tests, and guide you on the next steps to take.