Concussion prevention and response: High school winter sports

concussion_manAs high school winter sport athletes are bundling up to train through the coldest months of the year there is one topic in the back of parents’ and coaches’ minds: Concussions. And while statistics and news surrounding the lasting effects of concussions are usually referenced in football, concussion safety matters in every sport – especially winter sports such as ice hockey, basketball, and wrestling. The fact of the matter is that concussions can happen to any athlete, at any time, and they actually affect athletes in winter sports more than any other season.

That’s why we’ve provided four steps to approaching concussions during high school winter sports so everyone can stay as safe as possible. While the focus here is on preventing concussions, it’s quite possible that a TBI (traumatic brain injury) may still occur which is why concussion treatment techniques are included below. By following medical guidelines for concussion prevention, diagnoses, and treatment, you can be a part of the growing movement to reduce concussions in sports everywhere.

Step 1: Stay informed

TBIs, most of which are classified as concussions, have been making headlines for a while and were pushed back into the spotlight after the death of an Ohio State football player suffering from effects of a concussion. But it’s important to remember that football isn’t the only sport with traumatic brain injuries. In fact, nearly one third of all ice hockey injuries are TBIs – more than double the percent of football injuries that are TBIs. This is why being informed on the prevalence of concussions and student athletes is vital. Student athletes in every sport need the same type of concussion awareness that is happening for football players.

Also important to note is that the frequency of sports and recreation-related TBIs among children and adolescents has increased dramatically over the last decade. Now, a child is seen in an emergency room for a sports-related concussion every three minutes, which is an uncomfortably high frequency.

concussion_stats

To combat and hopefully reduce these alarming numbers (shown in this concussions and student athletes infographic), staying up to date on new concussion research is important. A good place to start is with a reputible center for concussion research.

Step 2: Enforce prevention techniques

Let’s start off with some good news: As of January 2014, all 50 states and Washington D.C. have passed concussion legislation according to USA Football. Legislation increases requirements and education around traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and also helps prevent further brain injuries after the initial diagnosis. And while this legislation is namely present in public schools, athlete protection measures are expanding to include private and charter schools, too.

While these are steps in the right direction, prevention of concussions goes beyond laws – it also means putting these laws into practice. Preparing for a head injury involves ensuring proper helmet fit, using common sense methods during practice, and taking preventative measures whenever possible, no matter which winter sport an athlete participates in.

It’s also important to get student athletes and their parents involved before the season begins by educating them on the risks associated with all winter sports, and steps for avoiding those risks. Although most schools require signed sports waivers and student athlete physical exams prior to play, education about athlete health and risks should be on-going.

Step 3: Aim for quick response and diagnosis

Even with proper prevention techniques in place, a student athlete brain injury is still possible during the winter sport season. If a concussion does occur at a practice or game, proper and timely diagnosis can speed athlete recovery. At many schools, a coach or athletic trainer are among the first to respond to athlete injuries, and can easily do so with the help of Magnus911 and Magnus Mobile. On top of these measures, the CDC recommends having a concussion action plan on file to aid diagnosis.

tbi_symptoms

When the initial injury occurs, the coach or athletic trainer can recognize a TBI by watching for a combination of a forceful bump, blow, or other hit to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head, and any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning (CDC). Then, if the athlete experiences any of the concussion signs and symptoms, the coach or athletic trainer will follow the following steps outlined by the CDC’s concussion guide for high school coaches:

  1. Remove the athlete from play.
  2. Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion.
  3. Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians about the possible concussion and give them the fact sheet on concussions.
  4. Keep the athlete out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says he/she is symptom-free and it’s okay to return to play.

Step 4: Provide proper treatment

Treating an athlete for a concussion is a process that requires time and communication. We’ve boasted about the importance of involving multiple school staff members in student athlete injury tracking and recovery – and so has the National Association of School Nurses, who recommends teaming up school nurses and coaches. But along with communication, student athletes need rest, plain and simple – no matter how badly an athlete may want to return to play. At the end of the winter season, the CDC recommends reviewing and revising your current concussion action plans and procedures. 

For more on the latest concussion education, legislation, and preparedness, view our complimentary research paper on the subject, then let us know what steps you take to reduce concussions at your school.

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This article is not medical advice, nor a substitute for medical advice.