Getting a Heads Up on Sports Concussions

Signs, Symptoms, and How to Respond

Each year, one out of every five student athletes playing a contact sport suffers a concussion from a blow to the head.
Concussions—one of the most common sports injuries—should not be taken lightly. Even what seems like a mild whack to the head can be serious.

By Bill Moore Smith, MD

Concussions are brain injuries that can lead to significant permanent impairments if not properly diagnosed and managed.
Although athletic trainers and some coaches are trained to recognize the signs of concussion, it’s important for parents to understand the symptoms as well. Symptoms like appearing dazed and stunned may show up right after the injury or may not appear until hours later.
Concussions can even occur without receiving a blow to the head. Sudden loud noises or sudden twisting of the head or neck may also cause concussions.
Since proper management is essential for a healthy recovery, students suspected of a concussion should refrain from any physical exertion at all until they feel 100 percent normal again. The steps of recovery— ranging from no physical activity, to light or sport-specific exercise, to full play—may take several weeks and should be closely monitored by someone trained in concussion management before the player returns to practice or play.
If a concussion is even suspected, a child should not return to the game or practice and should not participate at all until every symptom has disappeared. Although every situation differs, most students with mild concussions can return to school or class but should avoid any type of exertion until they are evaluated by a health professional who is well-trained in the management of concussions.
Parents should also realize that one concussion increases the risk of having others. Once you’ve had a concussion, it takes less force to cause subsequent concussions. Sustaining numerous concussions also increases the risk of permanent brain injury and mood disorders.
Sometimes athletes wrongly believe that they’ll appear strong and courageous if they play injured. But playing too soon after a concussion could have deadly consequences. Don’t let your teen convince you that he or she is “just fine.” It’s not cool to play with a head injury. Parents and coaches need to help create an environment which echoes that fact.

Signs and Symptoms of Concussion

If a player reports even one of these symptoms, keep the player out of play and seek medical attention right away:
• appears dazed, stunned, or confused
• forgets instructions or cannot focus
• unsure of game, opponent, or score
• moves clumsily or appears sleepy
• answers questions slowly
• loses consciousness (even briefly)
• shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
• unable to recall events before or after a hit or fall
Dr. Bill Moore Smith, family medicine physician, is accepting new patients at two area offices: UT Erlanger Primary and Athletic Health, 1200 Pineville Rd. Chattanooga (423-265-0063), and UT Erlanger Primary Care, 100A McFarland Rd., Lookout Mountain, Ga. (706-820-8133).

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Concussions: Myths vs. Realities


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