Steps to Take After a Head Injury or Concussion on the Field or Court

The unfortunate reality of sports is that athletes can and do get hurt.

Injuries, particularly ones to the head, are common occurrences in physical competition. Head injuries include concussions, scalp wounds, and skull fractures. They can either be closed or open.

A head injury can be caused by a blow to the head by either an object, the clashing of heads or bodies, or a person falling to the floor and hitting their head. In sports, this can occur quite often as players rush to gain possession of the ball. Equipment used in hockey or lacrosse sticks may be raised too high and accidentally hit another player in the head. A player who has just jumped get the rebound could unexpectedly fall and hit their head.

Head injuries can happen in countless ways during competition. All head injuries can be potentially serious.

If an athlete has suffered a direct blow or a whipping of the head, they should be asked if they are experiencing a headache, ringing in the ears, dizziness, or grogginess. Ask them if they are experiencing blurred or double vision.

If they appear confused and unsteady, they should be examined immediately. Other severe signs that should alert you to seek medical attention are irregular breathing, bleeding from the wound at the point of blow, unresponsiveness, short-term memory loss, abnormalities in the pupils, and/or vomiting.

An athlete with any of these signs or symptoms should be pulled out of activity right away. Continue to monitor the athlete so that you can alert medical services of any worsening symptoms. Contact the guardian or parent of the athlete immediately and let them know all of the observed signs and symptoms.

If an athlete shows any of the severe signs of trauma, their head and neck should be stabilized. If the athlete is wearing a helmet, leave it on as you don’t want to jar the head and neck unnecessarily.  Do not shake the person and do not move them.

If there is any profuse bleeding, get it under control by applying pressure over it.

If the athlete has blacked out and remains unconscious directly after the blow to the head, immediately examine vital signs and check for severe bleeding. Call out their name. Check their airway, breathing, and pulse. Perform CPR if necessary; otherwise, monitor the athlete’s breathing. Emergency medical services should be called immediately if they fail to respond and remain unconscious.

It is imperative to monitor athletes after they have suffered a head injury, even if they walk away from it seemingly unscathed. Remember that many symptoms do not appear until after a few days.

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