From Pros to PeeWees, Head Injuries in Sports Demand Attention

Whether it’s on the high school football field or a little league baseball diamond, an impact to the head should be taken seriously. The effects of these kinds of injuries can be long term, and health professionals are just beginning to better understand them through ongoing research efforts.

“You have only one brain, so you need to take care of it. It’s not like sending someone back out there with a mild ankle sprain. An injured athlete should be evaluated by an appropriate medical professional,” said Keith Belmore, Assistant Teaching Professor in the MU School of Health Professions Athletic Training program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traumatic brain injury-related hospital visits have increased by 70 percent since 2000.

Fortunately, Belmore said the way professionals identify, treat and manage concussions has progressed in the last few years. When athletic trainers are on the sidelines, they often witness the play or incident that caused the injury, and can help recognize early signs and symptoms.

Immediately following a head injury or impact to the head, health professionals check for symptoms like blurry vision, sensitivity to light and noise, headaches, or dizziness. Following the incident, players and health professionals watch for sleep disturbances, changes to emotional control and trouble concentrating or focusing. All of these can be signs of a concussion.

Concussions don’t always result from a direct blow to the head. Belmore explains that some sport-related contact can have a whiplash effect that can also result in injury to the brain. “The big collision sports like football or ice hockey have received a lot of attention, but kids and athletes can sustain a concussion or head injury in really any sport,” Belmore said. While sports equipment has evolved to prevent many injuries, Belmore said there is no equipment that is concussion proof.

At MU, the athletic training program curriculum does focus on concussions. Clinical preceptors and faculty train students on everything from how to evaluate and initially manage a head injury to how to help facilitate the recovery process during rehabilitation.

“Concussions are a functional injury rather than a structural injury, so it’s not like a fracture where we can use an x-ray to clearly identify the injury. It can be challenging to identify the existence and extent of head injuries and it takes a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach,” Belmore said. “Athletic trainers, physicians, neurologists, neuropsychologists and physical therapists should all be working together to effectively diagnose and manage concussions in athletes.”