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Sports and Traumatic Brain Injuries: Statistics & Steps for Recovery

The link between sports and traumatic brain injuries has gained a lot of publicity over the years.

Many people, however, still do not realize the full extent of the danger head injuries pose for athletes.

In today’s article, we’re answering the most frequently asked questions about sports and traumatic brain injuries.

That way, you’ll know the best ways to prevent you or your child from getting hurt.

Sports and Traumatic Brain Injuries

In the past fifteen years, the number of emergency room visits for sports-related head injuries has tripled, especially in children and teenagers.

In fact, children and teens account for 70% of all sports-related concussions seen in the emergency department, which comes out to around 173,000 cases.

This rise in hospital visits probably doesn’t mean there are more head injuries now, though.

Instead, people today have a deeper awareness of the seriousness of TBI, which leads more parents to take their kids to the hospital.

Now that we have some background on the problem, here are some answers to your questions about sports and traumatic brain injuries.

How many athletes get concussions?

soccer player lying on grass with concussion

Around 2.5 million athletes reported getting at least one concussion in the last twelve months.

69% said they still played while experiencing concussion symptoms.

These are only the ones who reported their concussion. Most research estimates say that as many as 50% of sports-related concussions go untreated.

Which sports have the highest rates of traumatic brain injuries?

Brain injuries can occur in any sport, but the games with the highest reported TBI and concussion rates were:

  • Football
  • Wrestling
  • Ice hockey
  • Soccer

Who has the most risk of concussion or brain injury during sports?

Volleyball players have a high risk of concussion

Athletes at the college and high school levels are by far the most likely to get a concussion.

As far as lower levels go, girl athletes, particularly those who play volleyball and soccer in high school, have a higher rate of concussions than boys.

Those who had a previous head injury are also more likely to experience another one.

When can someone play sports again after a head injury?

This is probably the most common question people ask about sports and traumatic brain injuries.

However, it’s vital that you don’t play again until your concussion is completely healed.

That’s because your brain is in a more vulnerable state while it is recovering from a concussion, and there can be devastating consequences if it becomes injured again too soon.

Doctors call this effect second impact syndrome (SIS). Some effects of SIS include:

  • Widespread brain swelling
  • Brain herniation
  • And death

This syndrome is rare, but even if you don’t develop SIS, suffering a second injury before the first one heals can still cause serious problems.

That’s why you need to wait until your physician clears you before getting back in the game. Even if you feel better, you might still have symptoms you can’t see, which means you are still recovering.

In the end, it’s just not worth the risk to play too soon.

How long does it take to recover?

There is no one-size-fits-all for predicting your recovery time.

However, the more severe your symptoms are, the longer it will take for you to recover fully.

What steps should I take to recover from a concussion?

how to heal from a sports-related traumatic brain injury

Most concussions will heal on their own. You just need to give your brain time.

There are actions you can take to promote a faster recovery, though, such as:

  • Getting lots of sleep (contrary to popular belief, it’s not dangerous to sleep with a concussion).
  • Avoiding mentally and physically strenuous activities.
  • Staying hydrated.
  • Eating foods that heal the brain after concussion.

Following these steps can drastically reduce your concussion recovery time.

How can you prevent sports-related brain injuries from happening?

There aren’t any ways to completely prevent concussions and brain injuries in sports, without a significant change in the rules of most games.

Even helmets don’t really protect athletes against brain injuries.

That’s because most TBIs are caused by the brain shaking or twisting inside the skull, which a helmet can’t do much about.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Here are some tips from the CDC to help coaches and players lessen the risk of concussion:

1) Talk to players about concussions. Coaches, make sure your players understand how serious a concussion can be.

Sometimes kids think they will lose their position on their team if they report a concussion. Help them know that their safety is your priority.

2) Understand the symptoms. Traumatic brain injury side effects can be hard to spot. That’s why coaches and athletes need to know what look for.

The most common symptoms of head injury include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea

3) Create an action plan for concussions. This is the best way to prevent a player’s concussion from getting worse. If you think a player might have a concussion, you should:

  • Remove the athlete from game.
  • Have the player tell you about the concussion, how it happened, what symptoms they feel, etc. Encourage them to be honest.
  • Tell the player’s parents.
  • Ask for a letter from the player’s doctor before letting them play again.

4) Strengthen your neck muscles. Some studies show that stronger people with stronger neck muscles have lower rates of concussion.

That’s because a stronger neck can absorb more shock, which decreases force on the brain.

When should a player go to the hospital?

doctors can help treat TBIs caused by sports

While you should definitely stop playing right away if you get a concussion, you don’t always need to go to the hospital.

You should go to the hospital if you:

  • were knocked unconscious
  • have a steadily worsening headache
  • can’t remember things
  • are slurring your speech

Some of these symptoms won’t show up for a few days. That’s why it’s so important to take it easy and stay vigilant.

Facts about Sports and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Sports and traumatic brain injuries will probably always be connected, especially when we are talking about high contact sports like football, soccer, and hockey.

But by educating yourself about the dangers of concussions in sports, you can help minimize the damage it does in your life and the lives of your teammates.

Remember, the biggest thing you want to avoid is repeat injury. So take yourself out of the game as soon as you think you have a concussion and give your brain time to heal.

If you do that, you’ll not only avoid the worst side effects of head injury, you’ll also make sure that you can keep playing more in the long run.

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