Recognizing Sport-Related Concussions

From Boston Children's Hospital Pediatric Blog

By Alexandra Wade, Michael O’Brien, MD and William Meehan, MD

The new school year has begun and fall sports season is fast approaching. But before the sports season kicks off, parents and young athletes should be fully aware of the risks associated with contact sports, particularly sport-related concussions, which are increasingly common in young athletes. But not every athlete who suffers a concussion is reflected in these cases; many athletes don’t recognize they’ve experienced a concussion because they don’t know the signs and symptoms. This is especially troublesome because athletes who don’t realize they’ve suffered a concussion are likely to return to play before they’ve fully healed, putting them at risk for a second concussion. Children who get a second concussion before fully recovering from the first are at a greater risk for serious, long-term problems.

By learning more about what concussions are, and how to recognize them once they’ve occurred, parents, coaches and young athletes will be able to seek treatment for sports-related concussions as soon as possible.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a sudden, rotational acceleration (turning or shaking movement) of the brain. It’s an unnatural movement for the brain to make and causes a temporary disruption in normal brain function. In sports this typically happens when a person is struck in the head, but it can also occur if an athlete is hit on the facemask or chest, causing the head to snap forward or backward.

Common physical and behavioral concussion symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disorientation
  • Changes in personality

These signs and symptoms may also be associated with other medical issues. This is why it’s important for athletes who have sustained a head injury to see a medical professional who has the experience to fully recognize concussions. In addition, they can also make sure the athlete is not suffering from another injury. (Concussion is the most common neurological injury in sports, but it’s not the only one.)

Once it’s been determined that an athlete has sustained a concussion and is not suffering from a different neurological injury, it’s important to remove him or her from play; concussed athletes need physical and cognitive (mental) rest to recover properly. If symptoms worsen, they should seek emergency medical attention immediately. Athletes who respond well to physical and cognitive rest should schedule an appointment with a physician trained in assessing and treating concussions—usually their primary care physician—who will decide if any school accommodations need to be put in place to support the child’s recovery and help determine when the athlete can safely return to his or her sport.

Most concussions can heal quickly if managed appropriately, but to do so parents, coaches and players must learn to recognize the symptoms and act quickly if they suspect a player has sustained a concussion.

If you believe your child has sustained a concussion during an athletic event and you would like them to be evaluated by one of our Sports Medicine physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital please call 781-216-1328 or click here to make an appointment. 

For more information on concussions, see these blogs:

Studying the effects of multiple concussions

Our patients’ stories: Tackling concussion head-on

What should parents know about concussions in the wake of Junior Seau’s suicide?

For more in-depth information on concussions, Meehan wrote a comprehensive guide for non-medical professionals on the subject: Kids, Sports, and Concussion: A Guide for Coaches and Parents

Used with permission from Boston Childrens Hospital.