Dealing With Traumatic Brain Injuries In Sports

About one in five traumatic brain injuries are caused by sports or athletic activity, and if you play long enough, odds are you’ll suffer a head injury of your own. Caring for these head injuries can be difficult, because no two TBIs are the same. Today, we take a closer look at traumatic brain injuries in youth sports, and how to treat and reintroduce the athlete back into sports after recovery.

Dangerous Sports For Head Injuries

With all the recent headlines about CTE and head injuries in NFL players, you’d probably assume football was the sport that sent the most athletes to the emergency room with head injuries, but that’s not the case. Cycling is actually the sport that results in the most concussions and TBIs, followed by football, baseball/softball, basketball, and water sports like diving, skiing, tubing and surfing. Similar trends are seen when just looking at sports-related head injuries in children 14 years and younger, with cycling leading the way, followed by football, baseball/softball, basketball and skateboarding or scooters.

So what should you do if your child or one of your athletes suffers a head injury in practice or a game? For starters, remove them from activity and let them regain their composure on the sidelines. Do not force them to play through a head injury, because it could make symptoms worse and lead to further injury. Once on the sideline, evaluate the player for a concussion. Some sports require baseline concussion tests and standardized checks in the event of an injury, but that won’t be the case if you’re injured playing pickup basketball or skiing on the lake.

Ask the athlete some basic questions, like if they know where they are, what day it is, and ask them to follow your finger with their eyes while you move it. Ask them about their symptoms, including whether they lost consciousness, have any pain, or if they are having difficulty concentrating or remembering. If you don’t feel absolutely certain that the athlete is fine after these checks, have a parent or another player drive them home or to a medical center. The athlete should not drive home is they lost consciousness after a head injury.

Diagnosing and Returning to Sports

Here’s a look at a standardized five-step action plan for returning to sports after a TBI.

Step 0 or Baseline – Do not begin Step 1 until your are symptom free for a minimum of 24 hours. After you have been clear of symptoms for at least a day, you can begin the first step, but monitor how activity makes you feel, because you may need to wait a little longer if symptoms like headache, confusion, grogginess or inattentiveness set in with minor activity.

Step 1 – Light Aerobic Activity – The goal here is to increase the athlete’s heart rate and see if TBI symptoms remain clear. Ride an exercise bike for 5-10 minutes or go for a walk around the block to see if your body can tolerate this activity. Do not lift weights or run just yet.

Step 2 – Moderate Aerobic Activity – In this step, we want to see how the athlete responds to limited head and body movement. Activities include 10-15 minutes of jogging or moderate-intensity stationary biking.

Step 3 – Intense Non-Contact Activity – Here we want to simulate regular sporting activities without exposing the player to potential contact. They should try to complete their normal weightlifting routine or go through some practice drills that don’t involve potential contact with another player.

Step 4 – Return to Practice and Contact – The goal in the penultimate stage is to have the player return to practice and see if any symptoms still linger before returning to competition.

Step 5 – Return to Competition – Assuming everything has gone smoothly in the previous steps, the athlete should be able to return to activity, but they should still self-monitor for any problematic symptoms.

For more tips on how to handle concussions and TBIs in sports, reach out to Dr. Chang today.

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