Athletes and concussions

with advice from Lindsay Minnear, PT, DPT

Athletes and concussions.

While football has come into the spotlight as a high-risk sport for concussions, athletes are able to sustain a concussion during any sport. That said, there is a much higher risk when playing a contact sport, one that involves interaction between players or sports equipment that could result in injury, especially sports like football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer and field or ice hockey.

Athletes in any sport can do several things to reduce their chance of concussion, according to Lindsay Minnear, a physical therapist at Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network member in Pennsylvania). Here are just a few:

  • Cross-train to maintain strength throughout the body and not just the muscles used in your sport. Lindsay encourages athletes to work on lower body strength and balance, which will help avoid collisions on the field. Dr. Julian Bailes, an expert on head injuries in professional football players, also advocates strengthening the neck, to reduce head movement after a hit or collision.
  • Wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing a contact sport.Wear the proper protective equipment and a helmet when riding a bike, playing a contact sport, running the bases in baseball or softball, and even while skating, skiing or snowboarding. A helmet is essential to protecting your brain; according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it “absorbs much of the force of impact that would otherwise be directed to the head.” In fact, wearing a helmet can reduce your chance of serious injury by as much as 85%.
  • Follow the rules for safety and the rules of the sport. Many of the rules put into play have been written specifically for the safety of its players. For example, the NFL has stepped up its enforcement of rules against helmet-to-helmet contact in recent years, trying to reduce the most serious hits that can cause concussions in its players.

Coaches and trainers can also take steps to not only ensure their players are following the above guidelines, but also teach awareness of concussions and the plays that can cause them. For example, they can teach the proper ways to tackle with lower risks, or they can reduce the number of full-contact practices both before and during the season of play.

First and foremost, coaches should reinforce the fact that once a player suspects she has a concussion, or the coach witnesses a possible concussion, the athlete should stop playing immediately. Lindsay advises that coaches look for the following signs of a concussed athlete:

  • Appears to be dazed or stunned
  • Forgets plays
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness
  • Shows behavior or personality change
  • Forgets events before hit (retrograde amnesia)
  • Forgets events after hit (anterograde amnesia)

Remember that concussions can also be caused by multiple, minor blows, which is why players should be aware of the following symptoms of concussion:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or fuzzy vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish or “foggy”
  • Change in sleep pattern
  • Concentration or memory problems

If a coach or trainer witnesses a player sustain a head-on collision with another player or object, or if a player reports feeling any of the above symptoms, Lindsay counsels immediately removing the player from play for assessment. If an athletic trainer is not available, the player should not return to the game, and he or she should be sent for evaluation by a medical professional.

Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports. The good news is that the majority of head injuries resolve themselves within a short amount of time and without any lasting damage. The hardest part of the nature of sport is convincing athletes of the difference between “rubbing some dirt on it” when it comes to a minor injury, and sitting out after a brain injury that could be far more dangerous.

For more information about preventing concussions in young athletes, look through the CDC’s toolkit, Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports.

Lindsay Minnear, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with 11 locations throughout Pennsylvania.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on concussions and youth concussions, in addition to the below links:

Finder, Chuck. A doctor’s seven ways to avoid damage from concussions. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 3, 2012.

Heads up: Concussion in youth sports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 29, 2012.

Helmet safety. American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, October 2011.

O’Connor, Anahad. Head injuries on the football field. New York Times, September 8, 2011.

Belson, Ken. Ivy League to limit full-contact football practices. New York Times, July 19, 2011.

Deardorff, Julie. Head injuries: How to reduce concussion risk. Chicago Tribune, March 1, 2011.

Epstein, David. The damage done: While concussive hits dominate the debate, a groundbreaking new study suggests that minor blows — and there can be hundreds each game — can be just as traumatic. Sports Illustrated, November 1, 2010.

Parker-Pope, Tara. In basketball, danger of head trauma. New York Times, September 13, 2010.

Burton, Robert. Should Johnny play linebacker? Concussions sustained in high school sports may put young athletes at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease., January 13, 2009.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.