What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Health care providers may describe a concussion as a “mild” brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening. Even so, their effects can be serious.
As a coach or parent, you play a key role in preventing concussions and responding properly when they occur. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent concussions and ensure the best outcome for your athletes, the team, league or school.
Check with your league, school, or district about concussion policies.
Concussion policy statements can be developed to include a commitment to safety, a brief description about concussion, and information on when athletes can safely return to play (i.e. an athlete should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play). Parents and athletes should sign the concussion policy statement at the beginning of each sports season.
Involve and get support from other parents and/or league or school officials to help ensure that the concussion policy is in place before the first practice.
Create a concussion action plan. To ensure that concussions are identified early and managed correctly, have an action plan in place before the season starts. This plan can be included in your school or district’s concussion policy.
Educate athletes and other parents or coaches about concussion. Before the first practice, talk to athletes and parents, and other coaches and school officials about the dangers of concussion and potential long-term consequences of concussion. Explain your concerns about concussion and your expectations of safe play. Show the videos and pass out the concussion fact sheets for athletes and for parents at the beginning of the season and again if a concussion occurs. Remind athletes to tell coaching staff right away if they suspect they have a concussion or that a teammate has a concussion.
Monitor the health of your athletes. Make sure to ask if an athlete has ever had a concussion and insist that your athletes are medically evaluated and are in good condition to participate. Some schools and leagues conduct preseason baseline testing (also known as neurocognitive tests) to assess brain function—learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly someone can think and solve problems. These tests can be used again during the season if an athlete has a concussion to help identify the effects of the injury. Prior to the first practice, determine whether your school or league would consider conducting baseline testing.
During the Season: Practices and Games
Insist that safety comes first.
- Teach and practice safe playing techniques.
- Encourage athletes to follow the rules of play and to practice good sportsmanship at all times.
Teach athletes it’s not smart to play with a concussion. Rest is key after a concussion. Sometimes athletes, parents, and other school or league officials wrongly believe that it shows strength and courage to play injured. Discourage others from pressuring injured athletes to play. Don’t let your athlete convince you that they’re “just fine.”
Prevent long-term problems. If an athlete has a concussion, their brain needs time to heal. Don’t let them return to play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first—usually within a short time period (hours, days, weeks)— can slow recovery or increase the chances for long-term problems.
Work closely with league or school officials. Be sure that appropriate individuals are available for injury assessment and referrals for further medical care. Enlist health care professionals (including school nurses) to monitor any changes in the athlete’s behavior that could indicate that they have a concussion. Ask athletes or parents to report concussions that occurred during any sport or recreation activity.
This will help in monitoring injured athletes who participate in multiple sports throughout the year.
Keep track of concussion. Coaches should work with other school or league officials to review injuries that occurred during the season. Discuss with others any needs for better concussion prevention or response preparations.
Review your concussion policy and action plan. Discuss any need for improvements in your concussion policy or action plan with appropriate health care professionals and school and league officials.
Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse. Be patient because healing takes time. Only when your symptoms have reduced significantly, in consultation with your doctor, should you slowly and gradually return to your daily activities, such as work or school. If your symptoms come back or you get new symptoms as you become more active, this is a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. Stop these activities and take more time to rest and recover. As the days go by, you can expect to gradually feel better.
Tips to help you get better:
- Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day.
- Avoid activities that are physically demanding (e.g., sports, heavy housecleaning, working-out) or require a lot of concentration (e.g., sustained computer use, video games).
- Ask your doctor when you can safely drive a car, ride a bike, or operate heavy equipment.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol and other drugs may slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury.
There are many people who can help you and your family as you recover from a concussion. You do not have to do it alone. Keep talking with your doctor, family members, and loved ones about how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally. If you do not think you are getting better, tell your doctor.
Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control