The latest research reveals that "sucking up" or "blowing off" a concussion is a dangerous approach. Proper management of an initial concussion is critical to prevent second impact syndrome, which can occur when an athlete returns to play while not fully recovered from the initial concussion and suffers another concussive event. The brain cannot handle the trauma and swells rapidly, causing compromise of brain activity. It is very serious and potentially fatal.
Changes in rules and legislation in the last year aim to protect student athletes from changes in brain function due to improper treatment of a concussion. The National Federation of State High School Associations made rulebook changes on concussions for the 2011-12 season. The new language reads:
"Any athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion (such as loss of consciousness, headache, confusion or balance problems) shall be immediately removed from the contest and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate healthcare professional."
The Safety in Youth Sports Act signed in November 2011 provides this language about removal from play and return to play:
"A student who exhibits signs or symptoms of a concussion or head injury while participating in an athletic activity shall be removed from participation at that time. The student shall not return to participation until the student is evaluated and cleared for return to participation, in writing, by an appropriate medical professional. School entities, physicians and neuropsychologists may utilize symptom checklists, balance testing and neurocognitive testing in addition to input from a certified athletic trainer, trained in the evaluation and management of concussions, as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help determine if a student is adequately recovered following a concussion or other head injury and fit to return to participation."
The act also requires high school coaches to take free online annual training in concussions and parents to sign an information sheet on concussion awareness.
Susquehanna Health's Sports Medicine Center follows established guidelines to treat and manage student athletes with concussions. Our outreach athletic trainers in local schools are trained to evaluate and manage concussions and use the neurocognitive test IMPACT to help determine when it is safe for athletes to return to play.
Many people have suffered permanent and debilitating brain damage due to the improper management of concussions. Encourage your student-athlete to report any signs or symptoms of a concussion to their athletic trainer, including:
Feeling sluggish, foggy or groggy
Sensitivity to noise or light
Slowed reaction time
Loss of consciousness or
There is no such thing as a minor brain injury. Medical professionals no longer grade or classify concussions, nor does the athlete need to lose consciousness or be "knocked out." Recovery time varies, too. Each concussion is managed based on taking an appropriate medical history, a clinical exam, duration of symptoms and neurocognitive testing. When appropriate, gradual return to activity begins with light physical exertion activities and progresses to full contact drills over a period of days or weeks.
Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine Center staff work hard to see athletes as soon as possible to begin concussion management. Close relationships with surrounding schools, colleges and professional sports teams help us safely return athletes to play. While focusing on the athlete's health, safety, and goals, we work closely with parents, coaches and athletic trainers to provide an all-inclusive approach.
Gusick is a sports medicine specialist at Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine, providing services such as specialized care for concussion management and treatment of sport-related skin conditions, fractures, musculoskeletal injuries/conditions and internal injuries. To contact Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine, call 800-321-2946 or 320-7598.