Head sports trauma

Head sports trauma
In many sports, head sports trauma really isn't all that unusual. Of course, in sports like American football, football (soccer), rugby, boxing or hockey it's almost expected. But accidents can happen in a number of other sports, such as cycling. Usually the injury is minor. But other times the player is sent back into the game far too soon.

Your brain is enclosed in a sack of fluid (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF). Normally this protects you, but when you bang your head, your brain bounces around, hitting your skull. A tight fitting helmet can provide some protection for your brain, but even then a severe impact can do damage. (read this article for more on choosing a cyling helmet)

First aid for head sports trauma

When do you call a doctor? Obviously if there's severe bleeding, or if breathing stops, a doctor should be called. If there's a change in consciousness, confusion or loss of balance, that's a reason to call the doctor (even if it's temporary). Also, check for black and blue discolouration behind the ears or under the eyes.

Normal first aid procedures should take place after head sports trauma, including dealing with bleeding or breathing issues. But also, you should move the person as little as possible, let them lie down, and observe them while you wait for the doctor.

Less severe head sports trauma

Most times, head injury is mild.  As long as the person is checked out carefully, they should recover with no lingering problems.

Concussion is a common head sports trauma.  If there is some change in the level of consciousness (for example, the patient has trouble staying awake), concussion may be involved.  Usually the injury is mild.  A doctor will check out the person, but rest is usually all that's needed.  (Of course, the person needs to stay awake until the doctor can do a proper diagnosis)

Sometimes a sports injury can also cause a "stinger".  This is similar to a pinched nerve.  It can feel like an electrical shock, and even cause paralysis.

Lingering symptoms

The Mayo Clinic about head sports trauma: It's important to prevent a condition known as second impact syndrome. This occurs when a person has recurrent head trauma while still recovering from a concussion. A seemingly minor trauma or bumping of the head in these people can lead to devastating swelling of the brain, which could prove fatal. You're at greatest risk of second impact syndrome if you're younger than age 20.

Less understood is the problem of headaches after your injury. It's common after a sports injury to get post-traumatic headaches. With treatment, these usually go away in a few weeks, but they have been known to become chronic. This is not the kind of thing you should just live with - be sure to talk to your doctor. These headaches may indicate that the brain has not fully recovered.

PTM, or post-traumatic migraine, may indicate a more serious underlying problem. Recently, the University of Pittsburgh Sports Medicine Concussion Program did a study on post-traumatic migraine in young athletes. The study showed that these athletes may have more neurocognitive problems (thinking and reasoning related to the central nervous system) - their symptoms need to be carefully monitored and treated in the weeks ahead.

Most athletes recover easily from head sports trauma. It is critical, however, that they not be thrown back into the game too quickly. Be sure to see a doctor you trust and get a second opinion if you feel it's needed. At times, a headache specialist or neurologist may be the best person to talk to.

Parts of this article were based on the HeadWay issue on Post-traumatic migraine.  If you want clear current information on headaches and migraine delivered right to your inbox, get your free subscription here!

References:  Cyclists should wear helmets by Dr Gabe Mirkin, 2005; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research article Head trauma, 31 May 2004, and Concussion, 17 Feb 2005; Article YOUNG ATHLETES WITH MIGRAINE HEADACHE CHARACTERISTICS AFTER A CONCUSSION MAY HAVE INCREASED NEUROCOGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT, June 21, 2005;HeadWay August 2005 article, Post-traumatic migraine