Head Injuries

Leading an active lifestyle is the key to staying healthy. But participating in sports can leave you vulnerable to injury, even if you’re wearing a helmet or other protective athletic gear.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Approximately 10 percent of all athletes involved in contact sports, such as football, hockey, and soccer suffer a concussion each season; some estimates are as high as 19 percent. Because many mild concussions go undiagnosed and unreported, it is difficult to estimate precisely the rate of concussion in any sport. Symptoms are not always definite, and knowing when it is safe for an athlete to return to play is not always clear.

The recognition and management of concussion in athletes can be difficult for a number of reasons:

Athletes who have experienced a concussion can display a wide variety of symptoms. Although the classic symptoms of loss of consciousness, confusion, memory loss, and/or balance problems may be present in some athletes with mild concussion, there may or may not be obvious signs that a concussion has occurred.

Post-concussion symptoms can be quite subtle and may go unnoticed by the athlete, team medical staff, or coaches.
Many coaches and other team personnel may have limited training in recognizing signs of concussion and therefore may not accurately diagnose the injury when it has occurred.

Players may be reluctant to report concussive symptoms for fear that they will be removed from the game, and this may jeopardize their status on the team, or their athletic careers.

Traditional neurological and radiological procedures, such as CT, MRI, and BEG, although invaluable in discerning more serious head injuries, are not consistently useful in evaluating the effects of mild head injuries.

Recovery and safe return-to-play

It is crucial to allow enough healing and recovery time following a concussion to prevent further damage. Research suggests that the effects of repeated concussion are cumulative over time.

Most athletes who experience an initial concussion can recover completely as long as they do not return to contact sports too soon. Following a concussion, there is a period of change in brain function that may last anywhere from 24 hours to 10 days. During this time, the brain may be vulnerable to more severe or permanent injury. If the athlete sustains a second concussion during this time period, the risk of permanent brain injury increases.

Diagnostic tools like ImPACT™ computerized software can help coaches, physicians, and athletic trainers make safe return-to-play decisions by comparing an athlete's brain function before and after a suspected concussion. The Center for Sports Medicine’s physicians and certified athletic trainers can provide a fast, accurate assessment of minor head injuries, using ImPACT™ concussion software.

For further information on safe return-to-play, download the sideline evaluation card.

Content on this page is for informational purposes only. If injured, please consult a physician. 

Contact Us

To schedule an appointment with one of our concussion experts, call 412-432-3681.

UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program

UPMC Center for Sports Medicine
3200 South Water St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex
8000 Cranberry Springs Drive
Cranberry Township, PA 16066

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