I could write an entire chapter – or even a book – on sideline evaluations of concussions. I could discuss signs and symptoms of concussions. I could advocate having doctors or athletic trainers on the sidelines at sporting events to evaluate athletes after head injuries. I could also call for education of coaches to help them recognize the signs that their players might have suffered concussions.
All of those are good ideas, but they are beyond the scope of this tip. I’ll offer a much simpler way to handle any head injury, no matter how severe.
Do not allow any player to return to the game after a concussion.
That tip might sound overly simplistic and overly cautious. Maybe it is. But I would rather err on the side of safety than risk a much more serious injury.
First of all, there is no such event as a “mild concussion.” Yes, there are certainly more serious brain injuries, but any concussion is potentially serious. It’s time we eliminate “ding,” “got his bell rung,” and “concussion-like symptoms” from our sports vocabulary. All traumatic brain injuries are potentially serious.
The risk we run by allowing an athlete to return to play before his brain is fully recovered is that he suffers a much more serious brain injury. These “second impact” injuries can take months to resolve. Some players have lasting headaches and other problems for years. On rare occasions, a second brain injury can lead to death.
The essence of this tip is that sitting a player out with any possible concussion eliminates any decision-making. We know that athletes deny concussion symptoms in order to stay in the game. And coaches want to win. This rule would eliminate those pressures.
Instead, hold the player out and arrange for formal evaluation by a neurologist or other doctor and neuropsychological testing to properly determine a safe plan for return to sports.
This tip, not allowing a player to return to the game after a concussion, might keep some athletes out who possibly could have returned to the game 15 minutes later. I’d rather be overly cautious and keep athletes from further brain injuries than the alternative.