What to Know About Concussions as Back-to-School Starts

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury typically caused by a blow to the head or upper body. They can happen in any sport but are most common in contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, and basketball. As athletes head back to school, it’s crucial for parents, athletes, coaches, and school staff to be aware of the signs, symptoms, and prevention strategies related to concussions. Here are some important points to consider:

1. Education

Understand what a concussion is. A concussion occurs when a hit or blow to the head or upper body causes the brain to sustain violent forces which result in trauma to the brain. Concussions are considered to be a mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI). This can damage brain cells and create chemical changes in the brain.

2. Recognizing symptoms

Concussion symptoms vary between individuals and may not appear immediately. Common signs include headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue. In the days following a concussion, people may have difficulty with concentration and memory, irritability and other personality changes, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep problems, and psychological issues such as depression.

3. Immediate action

If a concussion is suspected, the athlete should be removed from play immediately. The motto to follow is, “When in doubt, sit it out.” Continuing to participate in the sport can lead to more severe injuries.

4. Medical Evaluation

Any suspected concussion should be evaluated by a healthcare professional experienced in managing concussions. Do not rely on self-diagnosis.

5. Rest and Recovery

Rest is essential after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Rest includes avoiding physical activity and activities that require a lot of concentration, such as studying, working on the computer, and playing video games. Gradual return to normal activities, supervised by a healthcare professional, should be the standard practice.

6. Prevention

Always use the appropriate safety equipment, but be aware that helmets, mouthguards, etc., do not guarantee protection against concussions – they are designed to minimize the risk of severe head and facial injuries. Teach and reinforce proper techniques and rules of the sport.

7. Baseline testing

Some schools and sports programs might provide pre-season baseline tests to assess brain function (memory, attention, speed of thinking). If a concussion is suspected during the season, a post-injury test is compared to the baseline to help identify a change in brain function and guide management of the injury.

8. Return to Play

Athletes should only return to play with permission from a healthcare professional who is experienced in evaluating and managing concussions. They should follow a stepwise symptom-limited program, with stages of gradual increase in physical exertion.

9. Awareness of potential long-term consequences

Multiple concussions or a severe concussion may have long-lasting impacts on cognition, physical function, and mental health.

10. Clear communication

Ensure clear lines of communication between students, parents, coaches, teachers, and healthcare professionals regarding the athlete’s injury and their recovery progress.

In sum, a concussion is a serious injury that warrants immediate attention and appropriate management to prevent further injury and facilitate recovery. Awareness and understanding are key to protecting young athletes.