Head Injury and Concussion in Sports

Learn how to recognize a concussion or another serious head injury

Sports Head Injury
Sports Head Injury. photo (c) Stockbyte / Getty Images

Head injury and concussion may seem like concerns that only plague professional athletes, but the truth is that anyone who plays sports can wind up with a bump on the head. Even though most head injuries aren't serious, a growing body of research is linking sports concussions with serious long-term effects, including depression and memory problems.

Debate on the topic continues, but if you play sports, here is what you need to know about head injuries and concussions.

Different Types of Sports Head Injury

Head injuries in sports range from mild bumps and bruises to severe head trauma. But even a minor bump can turn into something serious, so it's important to know about the different types of head injuries and what to do if you suspect you have one.

Two serious sports head injuries are:

  • Sports Concussion
    A concussion is the most common type of sports head injury. A concussion may appear to be mild, but research is finding that repeated concussions can have serious, long-term effects.
  • Epidural Hematoma
    An epidural hematoma is bleeding between the skull and the brain that can occur when an trauma causes a blood clot to form between the skull and the brain's protective covering (the dura). The seriousness of an epidural hematoma became clear when actress Natasha Richardson died from what appeared to be a mild head injury during a skiing accident.

Head Injury Signs and Symptoms

The signs of a serious head injury don't always appear immediately.

Learn to recognize head injury warning signs and basic first aid treatment for a sports concussion.

Head Injury Treatment

All concussions are serious, and ignoring the signs and symptoms of a concussion increases the risk of suffering another, more serious head injury -- even neurological impairment and depression.

Head Injury Research, Policy, and Regulation

As research continues to uncover the serious nature of sports concussion and other head injuries, the rules and regulations that govern many sports (professional and otherwise) undergo constant scrutiny and change. Studies continue to find a cumulative effect of concussions that indicates the neurological consequences of mild traumatic brain injuries may be greater than previously thought, including an increased risk of depression, problems with memory, and other cognitive deficits.

  • Structural Changes After Head Injury
    As early as 2007, researchers at the Chicago College of Medicine reported finding structural changes in the white matter of the brains of patients with reported head injuries that correlate with cognitive deficits in thinking, memory and attention.
  • High School Girls Suffering More Concussions
    Also in 2007, researchers found that high school girl soccer players suffered concussions 68% more often than their male sport counterparts; girl basketball players had almost three times more concussions than boy players.
  • New Guidelines for Head Injury and Concussion in Youth Sports
    In 2009, an international panel of neurologists tightened their recommendations regarding concussion care for young athletes saying, "it's too difficult to make an immediate determination of the seriousness of head injuries which makes it too dangerous for continued play to be considered safe."
  • Congress Reviews Head Injuries in Pro Football
    Also in 2009, former NFL players, executives and lawmakers appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the effects of head injuries in the NFL and to determine if the NFL is doing enough to protect the players.

    A few weeks after those hearings, the NFL announced that they may require neurologists to evaluate a player prior to sending him back onto the field.

Sports Concussion and Head Injury Prevention

Sports Safety Equipment
Experts agree that sports safety equipment can reduce the risk of many injuries including serious head injuries.

  • Helmets for Sports
    Wearing a properly fitted helmet is one of the most important pieces of safety gear an athlete can wear to reduce the risk of serious head injuries.

Concussion Assessment and Testing in Athletes

The assessment of concussion, as well as determining when an athlete should return to play, remains a matter of controversy within the medical community. For this reason, any athlete who suffers head injury that causes any symptoms of concussion should stop play and receive a medical evaluation. Any player has any loss of consciousness or post-injury amnesia, should seek immediate medical attention.

  • Concussion Test to ID Head Injuries
    This simple test may help identify a concussion on the spot and determine if an athlete should be allowed back in the game.
  • ImPACT System
    Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Sports Medicine Center developed a computer program called the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing system, or ImPACT, which provides coaches with a more objective measure of whether the athlete is healthy enough to return to play after a head injury.

Sports Concussion Reader Stories

Reader's Respond: Have You Had a Sports Concussion?
Read and share your sports concussion story with other athletes.