Student Athlete Concussions: Signs, Symptoms and Prevention Tips

by Rhonda Thompson, EMT, RN, Trauma Outreach/Injury Prevention Coordinator, Botsford Hospital Trauma Services

Student athlete

It's that time of year again! Students are heading back to school and back to the football field where they should be monitored for signs of concussion.

The time has come again for students to return to school and if they are not already playing in a sport, it is likely they will participate in some type of recreational activity in the future.  Recognizing some of the signs and symptoms of a concussion is extremely important, not only for coaches but also for the parents and student athletes as well.

What is a concussion?

Concussions are a type of injury caused by a blow or bump to the head that disrupts the way the cells in the brain normally work. The brain is comprised of soft tissue and is cushioned by spinal fluid. It is encased in the hard, protective skull. When a person gets a head injury, the brain can move around inside the skull and even bang against it. This can lead to bruising of the brain, tearing of blood vessels, and injury to the nerves. When this happens, a person can get a concussion — a temporary loss of normal brain function.

They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreation activities. Most sports and recreation-related concussions seen in emergency departments each year (65%) occur among youth ages 5–18. While many of these injuries may be considered mild, they can result in health consequences such as impaired thinking, memory problems, and emotional or behavioral changes.

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

  • Headache or “pressure” in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Bothered by light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

Signs observed by others:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to or after a fall or hit

If any of these symptoms are present, athletes should notify their coaches and parents. A medical check-up is necessary, and plenty of time should be given to get better. A bump or blow to the head should never be ignored.

How can concussions be prevented?

  • Follow the coach’s rules for safety and the rules of the sport
  • Practice good sportsmanship at all times
  • Use the proper sports equipment, including personal protective equipment
    • The right equipment for that game, position, or activity
    • Worn correctly and the correct size and fit
    • Used every time you play or practice

Some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or even days after the injury. Most people will recover quickly and fully. But for others, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or even longer. Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring signs/symptoms and “toughing it out” will often make symptoms worse. Your health care professional will tailor a routine to your specific symptoms and recovery needs.

Remember to notify a responsible adult if you think you may have a concussion. Take necessary steps to prevent concussions, always play safe and have fun!

Additional information and resources may be found at www.kidshealth.org and www.cdc.gov.

Update:  The CDC has published a new report that shows head injuries have almost doubled in recent years.

From 2001 to 2009, the number of annual traumatic brain injury-related ED visits increased significantly, from 153,375 to 248,418, with the highest rates among males aged 10–19 years.

Contact Rhonda at rthompson@botsford.org or (248) 888-2586

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