Concussion prevention is a tricky thing to do. Athletes don’t always want to talk about concussions. Athletic trainer Eric Knudson explains the reason well. Teen athletes “don’t always understand the ramifications of the injury they have; they just want to play.” You can’t play when you have a concussion, but if you prevent a concussion in the first place, you can stay in the game.
Concussions in high school athletes are a growing problem. A report by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine indicates that despite recent rule changes, concussion rates in football have not dropped. For the health, safety, and sports enjoyment of high school athletes, it’s important to focus efforts and attention on concussion prevention.
Concussion injuries occur when an outside force causes your brain to move inside the skull. The brain is the very center of who you are, responsible for thoughts, emotions, behaviors, physical movement—everything you do in your waking and sleeping hours. Having your brain banged up can negatively impact any area of your functioning.
The American Academy for Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that in sports, a concussion-causing to the head can come from
- A soccer ball (when heading the ball)
- Helmet-to-helmet contact
- Your head hitting the ground or other object/person
Concussions can also be caused indirectly when your body takes a blow that causes your skull to rotate quickly. These direct and indirect concussion-causing hits are common in football, soccer, and ice hockey.
How-To Tips for Preventing Concussions
If you’re an athlete, you want to play. Concussions are frustrating for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they’re different than other injuries. If you have a sprain, strain, or fracture, your use of that part of your body is restricted, and you know you can’t play even though you want to. With concussions, however, it often feels like you can play. What’s a “little” headache, after all?
Concussions are actually one of the most dangerous injuries of all sports injuries. Playing despite a concussion can create complications with consequences that can affect your functioning for the rest of your life.
Knowing how to prevent concussions will keep you feeling great and playing even better. Keep your head ahead of the game by avoiding brain injuries. The following tips will help you with concussion prevention.
- Learn the proper technique for your sport. Playing correctly will reduce your chances of sustaining a concussion, and it will increase your ability and finesse.
- Play by the rules. While they may seem restricting at times, rules exist to keep players safe. New rules such as not leading with the head in football should be practiced and used to prevent concussion. Think of rules as a challenge that makes you a better athlete. Playing in a free-for-all doesn’t take a lot of skill, and it can knock you out with a head injury.
- Wear properly fitting equipment, especially helmets. A helmet can’t and won’t prevent you from all concussions, but when a quality helmet is worn properly, it will reduce the impact of hits you take.
- Know the symptoms of a concussion, and be on alert for them if you take a hit or head a fast-moving soccer ball. If you experience any symptom (including, but not limited to dizziness, headache, blurred vision, and nausea), stop playing immediately. When you have symptoms, you’re vulnerable for another, more intense, concussion with the very next hit you take.
- Talk and listen. Voice your concerns to your coach and/or parents. Seek understanding of the treatment and effects of concussions, and listen to their guidelines.
You can also take online concussion-prevention courses. In some states, high school coaches, athletes, and referees are required to take these courses. Other states haven’t made concussion prevention courses a requirement. If you don’t take a course through your school, you can take free courses online. Two courses suggested by the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey are
- National Federation of State High School Associations
- CDC’s Heads Up Concussion Online Training Course for High School Sports Coaches
Even the New NFL Helmets Don’t Prevent Concussion
To protect yourself from injury, you need quality sports equipment. Protective gear in sports is important. That said, equipment won’t completely keep you from getting hurt. A great pair of superbly fitting shoes will increase your performance and minimize your risk of injury, but shoes won’t guarantee that you won’t break your foot or sprain your ankle. Ditto helmets.
Helmets offer an extra layer of protection for your head, but they don’t fully deflect blows or absorb forces from an impact. Sports researchers and developers are working on improving helmets so they do a better job of protection.
A new NFL helmet, the ZERO1 has been created by VICIS and is being used during the 2017-18 season. It was tested in 2016-17 by select players in the NFL, the University of Oregon, and the University of Washington. It was created for high school players as well, but it hasn’t yet debuted at the prep level.
While the ZERO1 doesn’t prevent all concussions, it does minimize concussion risk. The helmet:
- Improves safety
- Has an outer shell that acts like a car bumper, giving way during impact then returning immediately to its standard position
- Boasts multiple layers of protective material
- Decreases the force of impact
- Is more responsive to the forces and speed of hits than traditional helmets
- Has a precise anatomical fit
Wearing the ZERO1 helmet is one way to prevent (but not fully eliminate) concussions. Eventually, it will work its way to the high school level, but for this helmet to actually help athletes, it has to be accessible so student athletes and schools can afford it. At $1500 a pop, it’s cost-prohibitive for most secondary schools. Until the improved helmet is accessible, follow the above-mentioned tips to prevent head injury.
Following the concussion-prevention guidelines discussed here can help you avoid getting a concussion or worsening an existing one. These prevention tips will allow you to keep doing what you love: playing your sport and keeping your head in the game.