The Sports Clinic

Head Injuries and Sports: A Guide to Concussion Management for Athletes

Head injuries are considered an acceptable risk in sports by most people. But they are very dangerous. In most athletes, concussion injuries go undiagnosed and unreported, resulting in a premature return to play.

Unfortunately, without proper management, diagnosis, and treatment, these injuries can lead to mental impairment, mental disability, and even death. Luckily, there are a few steps athletes can take to lower the risk of concussion. Here is a comprehensive guide to concussion, its signs and symptoms, and how athletes can manage it.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a jolt or bump to the head or a hit to the body that causes the brain and head to move fast back and forth. This rapid movement can make the brain twist or bounce in the skull, generating a change in chemical composition in the brain and sometimes straining and injuring brain tissues.

A single concussion cannot result in permanent damage to your brain. However, multiple concussions can result in adverse changes in your brain. Although concussion is not life-threatening, its effects can be serious and last for days, weeks, or months.

Causes and Symptoms of Concussion

The brain tissue is squishy and soft. The cerebrospinal fluid functions like a cushion between the brain and the skull. A concussion comes about once your brain twists and bounces or experiences a fast whiplash-type back-and-forth movement that causes a shearing force within the brain tissue; the motion strains and harms brain cells, leading to brain chemical alteration. These injuries make your brain function less normally for a while.

Causes of Concussion

Concussions occur due to:

  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sports injuries

Symptoms of Concussion

The symptoms of concussion normally appear within minutes of the head injuries or after days. The common symptoms of concussion encompass:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Blurry vision
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or balance problems
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Memory loss or difficulty concentrating
  • Depression and sadness
  • Being anxious, nervous, or irritable
  • Trouble understanding or concentrating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Depression or Sadness

It is always vital to seek emergency care if you experience a bump to the head. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends visiting a practitioner for anything more than a slight head bump.

The Importance of Concussion Management in Sports

In sports, concussion management is very critical for the safety and well-being of the athletes. If untreated, a concussion can result in severe long-term health issues, including trauma, depression, amnesia, and more.

Here are reasons why concussion management is vital in sports:

Improve Recovery Time of Athletes

Research indicates that athletes recovering slowly from a concussion can return to play sooner with an additional month of recovery beyond the usual recovery time. This allows athletes to return to play sooner, decreasing the injury’s impact on their well-being and performance. Even though an athlete may experience a delayed and slow recovery, recovery is achievable with additional time and proper concussion management.

Protecting Athlete’s Health

Poor management of concussions can result in an increased risk of subsequent injury in athletes. Although concussion may go undiagnosed as the signs might not display outwards, the athlete may fail to report concussion symptoms due to fear of removal from play or lack of knowledge of the symptoms.

Coaches, guardians, and officials play a vital role in ensuring fair play and strict enforcement of rules. Furthermore, creating awareness and encouraging proper skills while playing can have a greater implication in concussion prevention. With the right concussion management strategies, athletes’ health can be protected, reducing the risks of long-term health problems and preventing further injury.

Safe Return to Play

Concussion management is vital as it encourages a safe return to play. An athlete should return to play after completing the return to play progression process. Athletes should only progress to the next level of exertion if they are not experiencing any concussion symptoms at that level. This process ensures that the athletes have fully recovered before returning to their sport, reducing the risk of injury.

Raising Awareness

Concussion awareness is the first step towards dealing with repeated sports-related concussions among athletes and playing safer sports. It has also raised awareness about the importance of injury prevention and brain health. This has encouraged athletes and coaches to adopt measures to prevent concussions and find the right medical care when they happen.

Rest and Recovery for Concussion Management

Specialists recommend limiting activities that require thinking and mental concentration for the first two days after a concussion. Limit activities, like playing video games and watching television. You must also avoid physical activities that worsen concussion symptoms, like sports, general physical exertion, and vigorous movement.

You should slowly increase daily activities like screen time if you can put up with them without generating any symptoms. You can begin mental and physical activities at levels that do not worsen the symptoms.

Simple exercise and physical activity days after an injury have been shown to speed up recovery; nevertheless, you should avoid any activities with a high risk of head impact until you fully recover. Your doctor may recommend different therapies, including but not limited to cognitive rehabilitation for issues with memory and thinking, rehabilitation for balance problems, or rehabilitation for vision.

Gradually Return To Play After Concussion

As your symptoms improve, you may gradually add more activities to your routine. Your doctor will inform you when it is time to resume simple physical activities. Normally, a few days after an injury, you are given the go-ahead to do light physical activity like light jogging or riding a stationary bike, provided that it does not worsen your symptoms.

Eventually, after all the signs and symptoms of concussion have disappeared, you and your doctor can discuss the safety steps you need to follow to play sports again. Returning to play sports too soon increases the risk of another brain injury.

Concussion Prevention Strategies

Sports concussion is one of the most frequently reported injuries in sports. Sports concussion prevention is the main key to maintaining optimal brain health, as it can be difficult to repair and reverse brain damage. Unfortunately, not everything is avoidable, but taking precautionary measures is the surest way to prevent concussion. Here are a few prevention strategies;

Build a Safe Sport Culture

Athletes deserve to play sports in a culture that celebrates their hard work, teamwork, and dedication. As a sports coach, your actions can create a safe environment and reduce the chance of athletes getting a serious injury or a concussion.

Athletes succeed when;

  • They enjoy playing sports
  • Get positive feedback from their coaches for reporting concussion symptoms
  • They have instructors who tell them more about concussions and talk to them about safe play
  • They feel comfortable talking to coaches about possible concussion symptoms

Apply the Rules

For safety, good sportsmanship, and fair play, enforce the rules. Make sure that the athletes avoid unsafe actions like;

  • Striking another athlete on the head
  • Using their head or helmet to contact another athlete
  • Putting another athlete at risk of injury or trying to injure them
  • Making illegal advances, colliding, or checking with an opponent who is not protected.

As a coach, inform the athletes that you expect good sportsmanship on and off the field.

Ensure Athlete Wear Proper Gear

Athletes must wear the appropriate headgear for the sports they are participating in. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) should certify the helmet.

It is important to ensure the helmet fits a certain sport. Studies show that only 15-20% of the helmets fit as required. Therefore, it is critical that helmets be worn correctly every time.

Insights from Sports Medicine Experts and Athletes

In sports medicine, concussion remains a clinical diagnosis made by a specialist who is familiar with the athlete and understands the evaluation and recognition of concussion. An athlete alleged to have a concussion must be stopped from playing and assessed by a licensed healthcare provider trained in the management and evaluation of concussions.

The concussion assessment should be guided by cognitive evaluation, symptoms checklist, neurological physical examination, and balance tests. Athletes diagnosed with concussion need to be monitored for deteriorating mental or physical status. Remember, there is no same-day return to play for athletes diagnosed with a concussion.

Practical Tips for Athletes Who Are Interested In Preventing and Managing Concussions

While there is no way to prevent concussions entirely, athletes need to consider these practical tips for managing and preventing concussions:

  • Wear the correct protective equipment for your sports, like padding, helmets, mouth guards, and shin guards.
  • Ensure protective gear fits properly, is well maintained, and is worn correctly and consistently
  • Avoid foot-to-head, arm-to-head, and head-to-head collisions with other athletes.
  • Ensure that you follow all rules of fair play and good sportsmanship.

Incorporating Concussions Management into an Athlete’s Training Regimen

Including concussion management in an athlete’s training regimen is crucial. Concussion training is vital in improving injury knowledge. According to research, a brief training session on sports concussion signs, symptoms, and injury management directed at coaches can improve injury recognition. Ultimately, this type of training can aid athletes by allowing coaches to identify athletes with concussions and encouraging them to follow a certain treatment plan.

Final Word on Concussions in Sports

There is no doubt that sports concussions are a serious issue among athletes. However, with the right strategies, like wearing the right gear, adhering to gameplay rules, and knowing concussion signs and symptoms, athletes can prevent concussions and injuries by encouraging good sportsmanship and fair gameplay.