An estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions, or traumatic brain injuries, occur annually in the United States, and the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is now estimated to be as high as 19 percent per year of sports participation.
Blaine Long, Central Michigan University assistant professor of rehabilitation and medical sciences and subcommittee member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, has spent the past seven years researching post-acute care rehabilitation and assessment procedures of concussion-related injuries.
“More than 62,000 concussions that occur each year happen in high school contact sports and college football,” Long said. “Early recognition of concussion symptoms and knowing how to handle them is key to minimizing an athlete’s neurological injuries.”
Parents and coaches can recognize a concussion by watching for a forceful blow to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head and by carefully observing any changes in the athlete’s behavior, thinking or physical functioning.
An athlete with a concussion may have cuts or bruises on the head or face but exhibit no other visible signs of a brain injury and may or may not lose consciousness.
Long recommends that parents, coaches and athletes know the following eight tips on how to handle concussions once they occur in order to help prevent further damage and potentially devastating consequences:
Get educated in advance: Parents, coaches, athletes and school administrators should be educated about the seriousness of concussions.
Be aware of procedures: Parents should be aware of established concussion management procedures and find out if examination of a patient’s history of concussions, physical and neurological measures, ability to balance, and neurocognitive function is possible at their local school.
Assess the severity: When a concussion occurs, seek medical attention from a health care professional such as an athletic trainer or physician trained to assess the severity of a concussion.
Regularly monitor: Concussion victims should be regularly monitored and not left alone. Individuals who lose consciousness or who experience amnesia, increased confusion or irritability, vomiting, slurred speech, seizures, numbness in the arms or legs, an inability to recognize familiar faces or places, or a worsening headache should be immediately referred to a physician or emergency room.
Avoid play: During the acute stages of a concussion, the individual should avoid any physical or mental exertion that makes their symptoms worse.
Avoid certain medications: Individuals with a suspected concussion should not consume medications such as aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, which may cause increased intracranial bleeding and more severe conditions.
Observe closely: Closely observe an individual with a concussion after examining their signs and symptoms. Watch for any changes in consciousness and problems with balance, memory or difficulty in concentration.
Follow instructions: In some cases, an individual who has experienced a concussion may be able to go home but need overnight observation, in which case oral and written instructions should be given to the responsible party. It has often been thought that a person suffering from a concussion should be woken during the night, however that is only necessary if the patient experienced loss of consciousness, amnesia or symptoms before going to bed. The physician should describe in writing how often the individual should be woken up and when waking is not necessary. Frequent follow-up assessments throughout the day or evening are important. If there are changes in the individual’s signs and symptoms for the worse, they should immediately be taken to the emergency room.
“Health care providers are now working in collaboration with scientists to establish better methods for concussion assessment; create better and safer equipment, such as football helmets, for high-risk sports; and make adjustments to participation rules to help minimize traumatic brain injuries,” Long said.
Long currently serves on a subcommittee of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Research Foundation where he reviews research protocols in assessing new and emerging evidence used in diagnosing and treating concussions following sports-related trauma. His research expertise is in the areas of therapeutic modalities used for pain in post-acute care rehabilitation, therapeutic modalities on joint neuromechanics and athletic training education.