A head injury is a serious incident that needs to be handled quickly and calmly. Too many young athletes are injured during play and go untreated, causing real, long-term harm. For coaches, and parents, this is the ultimate guide to recognizing a head injury, and treating it appropriately.
“During a high school field hockey game in September 2013, near her Virginia hometown, Brie Boothby was struck in the side of her head with an opponent’s stick and blacked out. “The only thought in my mind was getting back in the game,” said Boothby. And despite her injury, she kept playing. “I thought I had to be tough. I thought I had to go back in because we were losing and I needed to support my team.”
That night, the 17-year-old felt nauseous, and began losing her memory. A trip to the doctor revealed devastating news: Boothby had sustained a serious concussion that left her with permanent brain injuries.” (saveinjuredkids.org)
Head injuries are serious matters, and knowing how to handle them could mean preventing serious, long-term damage, even death.
Football, baseball/softball, and basketball are the second, third, and fourth leading causes of head injuries in sports, with soccer at number seven. When trauma to the head occurs it should not be ignored, and there are specific steps to take to treat a player who has sustained a head injury.
What, exactly, constitutes a head injury?
Any hit, strike, or force to the head, neck, or face can cause traumatic brain injury, and should be treated accordingly.
My player got hit in the head, but they say they’re fine!
42% of kids said that they have downplayed or hidden injuries so that they could keep playing. Even if a player claims to ‘feel fine’ and doesn’t show any symptoms you shouldn’t let them return to the game. Symptoms of head injury can occur several hours after the initial hit, and further trauma can have devastating effects. Have them rest, if they’re still fine in 24 hours they should be clear for play, but always consult a physician to be sure.
The parent said it’s fine, they want their child back in the game.
53% of coaches said they’ve felt pressure to put injured players back in the game. You are the coach, and the safety of your players should be your number one priority. No trophy is worth the risk.
Signs of a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Memory problems
These can be signs of TBI or a concussion. If a player experiences these symptoms after sustaining a hit to the head, they should see a doctor.
Signs of Serious Injury:
- Changes in pupil sizes (usually one will be a different size than the other).
- Any clear or bloody fluid running from the nose, ears, mouth, or eyes.
- Marks or heavy bruising.
- Impaired hearing, slurred speech, or loss of/blurry vision.
- Loss of consciousness (even briefly).
If a player has any of these symptoms then they need emergency medical help right away.
What You Need to Do:
When someone receives a even a minor head injury take these steps:
- Immediately remove them from the practice/game. (UNLESS they are unconscious in which case don’t move them.)
- Put them somewhere shaded and comfortable.
- Have them lie down and keep still.
- If there is bleeding use a clean cloth or bandage to stop the blood flow putting only LIGHT pressure on the wound.
- If the player is wearing a helmet don’t try to force it off. If they’re experiencing any pain in their head or neck then leave it in place and call for medical help.
- Check for signs of serious injury or concussion listed in this guide.
- Even if they don’t show signs of severe injury or concussion you need to monitor them for several minutes and keep them still.
- Treat any swelling with a cold compress.
- Do NOT give them ANY medications.
- Avoid over-stimulation, this includes looking at a cell phone, watching television, and reading. Have the player rest (but stay awake) with no distractions, bright lights, or loud noises. Parents should consult a physician about taking time off from school and other activities if needed.
- Call for help. If you have any concerns about the player’s well being have them see a doctor as soon as possible.
What to do if:
- The player loses consciousness.
- Stabilize the head and neck by placing your hands on both sides of the person’s head. Keep the head in line with the spine and prevent movement. Wait for medical help.
- The player vomits.
- Roll their head, neck, and body as ONE UNIT onto their side so they can regurgitate without choking.
- The player is bleeding.
- Get them medical attention right away. Put a clean cloth over the wound, but be careful not to apply too much pressure in case there’s a skull fracture. If blood seeps through the cloth do not remove it, put a fresh one on top of the one in use. Do not wash the wound or try to remove any debris or protrusion from the wound.
- The player is dizzy or has difficulty standing.
- Keep them where they are, have them lie down and keep their head/neck stable until medical help arrives. Don’t pick them up or force them to move as this can cause further injury.
If any of these things occur get medical help right away.
Call 911 if . . .
The player begins to vomit, convulse, has trouble moving a limb, loses consciousness, lacks coordination, or has a sudden worsening of symptoms.
What NOT to do:
- Do not let the player take ANY medications. Things like aspirin and ibuprofen especially can increase bleeding, causing convulsions and seizures.
- Do not let them move around. Do not have them ‘walk it off.’ The player needs to lie down and stay still.
- Do not let them return to the game, even if they feel fine. You don’t want further injury to occur.
- Do not leave them unattended. Have an adult monitor them until you’re sure no serious harm has been caused.
- Do not wash or remove debris from a bleeding head wound.
- Do not move or pick up the player if they collapse/pass out. Keep them where they are, and check their breathing. Even if they wake up it’s best not to let them move until medical help arrives.
- Do not remove their helmet.
- Do not make assumptions. Unless a medical professional is on site to help, don’t make assumptions about the severity of the player’s injury. Don’t ‘guess’ as to what you should do, or try to give medical advice. If serious symptoms occur call for medical help right away.
Wait 24-48 Hours
Even if the player feels fine and shows no symptoms, you should not let them return to the sport/activity in question. Further harm could result in catastrophic injury, and physical exertion can bring on symptoms of a concussion. Let the player rest. They can return to play after they have been symptom free for at least 24 hours. If they had a serious injury that required a hospital visit do not let them return to practice without the doctor’s permission.
When in Doubt, Call For Help
Head injuries are fickle and can be hard to diagnose. If you’re worried or feel like a player is acting weird after a head injury, call for help and have them checked by a professional. Playing it safe is ALWAYS your best bet when it comes to youth head injuries.
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