Sports-Related Brain Injuries

Approximately 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries are sustained in the United States each year, including repeat injuries. Sustaining a repeat injury increases the risk for later TBIs. Repeated mild traumatic brain injuries occurring over a long period of time can have long-term effects to the brain. Conversely, repeated mild TBIs in a short amount of time can cause catastrophic consequences, even death.

Because the signs and symptoms of concussions aren’t always immediately noticeable and subconcussive head impacts do not show symptoms, it’s important to pay attention to athletes after they’ve received a jarring blow to the head or body.  If a head injury is suspected, seek medical attention.  The chart below details what you might notice about a concussed athlete as well as possible symptoms:

What to look for

Athlete’s symptoms

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall
  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

If an athlete does suffer an assumed concussion, follow the four-step action plan below:

  1. Take them out of the game. Even when the concussion is unconfirmed, it’s better to remove the athlete following any suspicion to avoid further damage.
  2. Ensure they seek medical attention. Health care providers can determine how severe a concussion is, and it’s essential the athlete is treated as soon as possible. To assist the doctors, coaches can take note of what actually caused the injury; if they were knocked unconscious and for how long; if the athlete suffered any memory loss; whether it’s the first concussion for the athlete and how many others they may have suffered.
  3. Inform the parents about the dangers of concussions. It’s important for them to understand the risk their child faces and the importance of seeking immediate medical attention.
  4. Do not let the athlete play until cleared by the doctor. If a repeat concussion occurs before the last one heals, the results can be very dangerous, even fatal. Make sure all symptoms are gone and the doctor believes the athlete is well enough to play again.