Sports are a great way to stay healthy, be a part of a team and have fun. But with any sport, there’s always a risk of injury. One of the most serious injuries that can happen during sports is a head injury.
Head injuries range from concussions to traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The most common sports-related head injury is concussion. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 3.8 million sport-related concussions occur each year. An estimated 5% to 10% of athletes will experience a concussion while playing sports.
The consequences of head injuries
The symptoms of a mild head injury can include headache, fatigue, sensitivity to light and noise, blurred vision and nausea. For moderate to severe head injuries, symptoms can include loss of consciousness, short-term memory loss and changes in behavior.
“For the short term, a head injury not only takes the athlete out of their sport, but their typical social interactions as well,” says Courtney Erickson-Adams, MD, board-certified family medicine and sports medicine physician at Holland Hospital.
According to Dr. Erickson-Adams, most younger athletes recover without long-term issues. But there are rare instances where an athlete never makes a full recovery. These long-term symptoms can include lingering headaches, depression or anxiety.
Reduce your risk
Athletes should practice spatial awareness, which means staying aware of where you are in relation to the ball and other athletes. This can help you brace yourself for any impact and decrease your chance of getting a head injury. You can also work on strength and balance training to build up your head and neck muscles and help keep you steady on your feet, reducing the risk of striking your head on the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it is important to always wear proper protective gear and make sure the equipment fits properly and is worn correctly and well-maintained.
After a head injury
“The most important thing after a head injury is to remove yourself right away from that game or practice,” says Dr. Erickson-Adams. If you believe you may have suffered a head injury, get evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.
Dr. Erickson-Adams also warns against “cocoon therapy”, an older method of treating concussions by staying alone in a dark, quiet room until you feel better. “Do some form of physical activity like walking or swimming, do things socially – whatever you can tolerate,” she says. “Staying isolated tends to make people feel worse.”
It’s critical that athletes learn the risks and signs of head injury, and that they feel like they can report a possible head injury and stop playing without worrying that they are letting down their coaches or teammates.
Where can I learn more?
Holland Hospital Sports Medicine has an expert team of sports medicine physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers to help people stay active, recover from injuries and perform their best.