Heads Up: Don’t Stay in the Game after Concussion

Oct. 4, 2016

Fall sports are in full swing and for many young athletes that entails spending hours on the football field or soccer pitch. Fortunately, serious injuries are rare, but sports concussions remain a concern among players, coaches, trainers, and families.young men in a football huddle

UR Medicine concussion expert Dr. Jeff Bazarian shares important information, which emerged from recent research.

Mainly: Athletes who stay in a game even for a few minutes after a concussion take nearly twice as long to recover as athletes who leave the game immediately, according to a study in the well-respected medical journal Pediatrics.

In addition to leaving the field immediately, it’s also important that concussed players avoid further stress on the brain and rest during the first 24 to 48 hours before considering a slow return to normal activities under the supervision of an experienced trainer and/or physician.

This advice goes against traditional sports culture that calls for athletes to tough it out. But in the long run, a player who takes immediate precautions after a concussion will likely heal faster and get back to playing faster.

This study will definitely allow us to tell patients who did not come out of the game right way: “Your recovery might take longer, and this is something to keep in mind if there is another concussion down the road.” In the immediate aftermath of a concussive head hit it’s very important to stop physical exertion and to minimize the possibility of a second head hit—and the only way to do that is to exit the field.

About 80 percent of concussed athletes recover in four weeks or less. But that means about 20 percent require more time to get better. Those who take longer tend to be female, individuals with a personal or family history of migraines, and people who also have attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities.

Prevention and early treatment are the best ways to mitigate harm from head injuries. Here are some tips:

  • Wear protective equipment, and wear it as instructed.
  • Play by the rules of the game. For instance, don’t tackle with your head down in football, and use proper techniques when heading the ball in soccer, avoiding collisions.
  • Pay attention to subtle signs of concussion and don’t be afraid to report them, even if you’re not sure. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, memory problems, irritability, headache, nausea, light sensitivity.
  • Stay well hydrated and get enough sleep.

More information is available from the UR Medicine Sports Concussion Program at (585) 275-3271.

Jeffrey Bazarian, M.D.

Jeffrey Bazarian, M.D., M.P.H., is a professor of Emergency Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Public Health Science. His interest in concussions and traumatic brain injury has evolved through 20 years as an emergency room physicianand with society’s increasing awareness of the best ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat the condition.