Sports and Concussions: A Play-By-Play

"A well-managed concussion is the best form of prevention."

Michael "Micky" Collins, PhD, executive director, UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

Sports and Concussions: A Play-By-Play

Professional athletes are no strangers to taking hits and getting concussions. But they’re not the only ones intimately acquainted with this injury; concussion can sideline amateur, college, recreational, and youth athletes, too. In fact, between 10-19% of all athletes involved in contact sports suffer a concussion each season. These estimates are generally accepted to be on the low side, since many mild concussions go unreported, therefore undiagnosed.

The key to figuring out when it will be safe to get back into the game is recognizing that an injury has occurred and being managed by a trained concussion expert until you are symptom free. Factors that serve as hurdles within that process can include:

  • Self-reporting. Players may be reluctant to report symptoms for fear of being removed from the game, and potentially jeopardizing their team standing or athletic career.
  • The “Silent Injury.” Even if a player is removed from activity upon incident, parents or coaches may still have trouble understanding the subtlety of concussion, because the player may not be displaying any outward or overt signs of a problem. Some symptoms appear gradually over time.

What is the best course of action for dealing with a potentially concussed athlete?

  • Remove from activity until a sideline assessment can be given. If any signs of concussion are present, return to play is ruled out for the remainder of the contest. During a concussion, neurons in the body suffer from an “energy crisis.” During this time of “crisis,” if the brain suffers additional injury, the result could be more severe symptoms and prolonged recovery, as well as the possibility of a more catastrophic neurological event.
  • Rule out other injuries using the ABC’s of assessment: problems with airway (A), breathing (B), and circulation (C). If symptoms are present, the athlete should receive immediate medical attention.
  • Seek medical attention if the athlete exhibits any of the signs and symptoms of concussion like loss of consciousness, disorientation or confusion, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light/sound/motion, coordination issues, etc.

Returning To Play

Only trained concussion experts can properly assess when it’s safe for an athlete to return to play, and it varies from person- to-person depending on their recovery. Some athletes could be cleared in a few days, while others may need several weeks or even longer before they are ready. Returning to play before complete recovery increases the risk of re-injury, so it is very important to allow enough time for a complete recovery.

“A well-managed concussion is the best form of prevention.”

Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, executive director, UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.


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