Think It’s a Sports Concussion? What to Know and What to Do

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Concussions are a common occurrence in sports such as rugby and football. Professional rugby players, for example, are more likely than not to experience a concussion after 25 matches. It’s not always possible to tell when a concussion has occurred, as loss of consciousness is not always a symptom of a concussion. For a sports concussion to have occurred, the patient must experience a change in mental status as a result of a trauma. Confusion, sluggishness, foggy thoughts and clumsy physical movements are all signs of a concussion. Knowing what to look for and what to do following a sports concussion is important. Proper treatment is needed to ensure that the trauma victim recovers.

Symptoms of Sports Concussion

Sports-related concussions have symptoms that can be observed. These symptoms may last for a few days after the concussion, but typically do not last longer than 10 days. In rare cases, these symptoms last a few months. Common symptoms of concussions include:

  • Memory loss
  • Clumsy movements
  • Dazed confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Changes in behavior
  • Forgets instructions
  • Feelings of pressure inside the head
  • Feeling not right or not like themselves
  • Problems concentrating
  • Blurry vision
  • Bothered by bright lights or noise

In some cases, concussions lead to persistent physical, mental, behavioral or emotional problems. This condition is known as “post-concussion syndrome.” Sometimes, when several concussions occur over a brief period, athletes even suffer from second impact syndrome – a condition that is life-threatening if not treated properly. For this reason, it’s important for patients to seek care after any sports-related concussion.

Get an Evaluation

Concussions are managed according to their severity, so it’s important to get a medical evaluation as soon as one occurs. This will help rule out other injuries and enable the physician to match the treatment to the problem. Sometimes assessment occurs on the sidelines of the playing field, though in less severe cases, the evaluation occurs in a medical facility after the trauma has occurred.

Value of Neuropsychological Assessment

Many medical professionals consider neuropsychological assessment to be the most effective way to detect subtle disturbances in the brain. For this reason, some colleges, universities and national sports leagues have instituted programs to use neuropsychological tests to assess athlete brain function. These tests measure memory, speed, attention, and speed of information. Tests are performed before the sports season begins, and then again once the athlete sustains an injury.

Athletes are required to return to baseline levels before they are allowed to return to play. Athletes who are not tested in this way throughout their sporting season should be considered for other forms of neuropsychological evaluation to ensure that they maintain brain function and health.

Concussion Treatment and Prevention

Over many decades, changes in rules for athletic competition have reduced the number of sports-related concussions. Helmet design has changed to be more effective at preventing head injuries to athletes. In addition, improved conditioning of young athletes (including strengthening neck muscles) may have also helped prevent more concussions.

However, it’s still important to look for the signs of a concussion following an injury, high impact or a trauma on the sports field. Loved ones may notice a change in behavior following an accident or an incident on the field. This should be addressed as soon as possible to ensure the patient gets medical help. Looking for problems such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, changes in sleeping patterns, cognitive function, loss of memory and other changes can help identify a problem in its early stages, to ensure the athlete receives proper care.