As University of New Mexico neuroscientists study the long-term effects of brain concussions on the school's student-athletes, UNM sports medicine physicians are offering tips on the signs of concussions and what coaches, parents and athletes of all ages should do if they suspect an athlete has suffered one.
With the start of school just around the corner, and athletes of all ages hitting sports fields, its important that coaches, players and parents are familiar with symptoms of concussions, according to Dr. Richard Campbell, UNM Athletics team doctor and a neuropsychologist at UNM Hospital.
"The general consensus is that children and adolecents who have sustained a concussion should not return to play until they have had resolution of their symptoms from concussion," Campbell said.
When does head trauma become serious?
Head trauma becomes serious when the impact changes the athlete’s behavior, cognitive abilities or physical performance.
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a rapid change in the motion of the head, such as a bump, blow or jolt. This can occur during practices, training or games. Sometimes it is obvious, but not always. Not all head contact will cause a concussion and many athletes complete their careers concussion-free.
What should a coach (or parent) look for?
- athlete appears dazed or stunned
- loss of consciousness (even briefly)
- memory loss (prior/or post contact - do they remember getting hit? do they remember coming off the field?)
- confusion about an assignment or position
- clumsy movement
- athlete answering questions slowly
- uncertainty of game, score or opponent
- change in mood, behavior or personality
What should an athlete look for?
- headache or head pressure
- nausea or vomiting
- dizziness or balance issues
- blurry or double vision
- sensitivity to light/noise
- feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
- concentration or memory issues
What do I do if I suspect a concussion?
It is always best to err on the side of caution when dealing with head trauma. If the player has lost consciousness, is vomiting or having seizures or memory loss, seek immediate medical attention. Losing consciousness is serious and signals that the athlete needs to be seen by a qualified medical professional at an urgent care facility or emergency room. Coaches and parents should be aware of the nearest hospital and urgent care facilities prior to practice and game day.
Even if the player isn't experiencing obvious symptoms, but you still suspect a possible concussion, err on the side of caution and remove the athlete from play. Sit the player down, have them relax and monitor their symptoms. Don’t rush them back onto the field. If you suspect a concussion, you should keep the athlete out of play the remainder of the day and until they have received an OK to return from an experienced health care professional.
As soon as possible, take notes about the event. If there is a concussion, specific information such as what caused the injury and with what type of force, when it happened, whether the athlete lose consciousness and for how long, any memory loss immediately following the injury (do they remember getting hit?), any seizures and have they had concussions before, can become very important to the athlete’s treatment and recovery. Make sure your name and contact information is included in your notes.
Communicate with the athlete’s parents or guardians about what happened and supply them with a copy of your notes. You might have them take a photo of your notes with their cell phones. Do not try and diagnose a concussion yourself - send the athlete to an experienced health care professional. Communicate with your league as soon as you can.
Stages of recovery
Concussions take time to heal, so rest is recommended until symptoms of concussion resolve. A health care professional can make decisions about the athlete’s readiness to resume activities. The athlete's doctor can assist in developing a recovery plan based on gradual increases in activity.
The next stage of the recovery plan might include light aerobic exercise (e.g. stationary bike and basic physical movements), followed by sport-specific training (including running drills or agility skills). Non-contact training drills (athlete can start light resistance training) might come next. After being released by a family doctor or medical specialist, the athlete can engage in full-contact drills. At least 24 hours should be dedicated to each of these stages (you should contact your healthcare professional and start over at the beginning if symptoms reappear). After the athlete has completed these stages, and received release from a healthcare professional, he or she can return to competition.
The effects of concussion are unique to each athlete. In most cases, an individual recovers completely from a concussion, typically within days to weeks, and he or she will not experience significant long-term difficulties. In some cases, athletes may take longer to recover. They may require more specialized evaluation and guidance from a health care professional experienced in management of sports concussion.