Sports have evolved over the decades – from helmet and uniform design to play-calling and coaching techniques. Practice schedules are becoming more jam-packed, and scholarships are being offered at younger ages. Though the pace of sports has increased dramatically, many feel that sport safety has lagged a bit.
There are still a number of ongoing studies looking at long-term effects of sports injuries– most notably head injuries– and the protocols for treating these injuries continue to change as new information is discovered. The media have done a good job of highlighting the importance of treating brain/head injuries appropriately after seeing the effects on retired athletes years after the injury or repeated injuries. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research has even been the spotlight of a major motion picture starring Will Smith, Concussion, which was released in 2015.
The first step to sport safety is you: educated and diligent parents, athletes, coaches, and trainers. Your athlete’s safety requires close attention during the game. If there is a severe injury to an athlete anywhere above the chest, then he or she needs a quick evaluation. Note that you don’t have to see direct contact to the head; sometimes the whiplash force of a fall is enough to cause brain injury.
It’s important to look for key warning signs immediately after an injury. Some things that may indicate a concussion or something worse– like a skull fracture or brain bleed– include loss of consciousness of any amount of time, memory loss, “blacking out”, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, or numbness/tingling. If any of these symptoms are present, your child should be seen by a doctor immediately. Over the next several days after a hit, if your child notices a change in smell or taste, worsening headache, vision changes, new forgetfulness, memory recall problems, or personality/mood changes, he or she should be evaluated.
Protocols in most sports have changed to mandate sitting out for a while after an injury to give adequate time to safely assure an athlete can return to the sport. If any of the previously mentioned warning signs are apparent, a doctor will evaluate and possibly get some head images based on the presentation. It is important not to return to the sport too soon. Some people recover in days– some take weeks, or even months.
Medical protocols are still evolving, and as the medical profession learns more about the extent of head injuries, we will do our best to keep your athletes safe to ensure a bright, healthy future long into adulthood.