Minnesota State High School League takes head injuries seriously
By: James Rogers, M.D.
The kids are headed back to the classroom and back to the athletic fields – as fall school sports get into full swing. Competition can be fun and fierce. But it’s also important to ensure that it’s safe. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) has specific recommendations regarding safety – and specifically head injuries sustained during high school competitions. Athletes and families can benefit from reviewing and adhering to them for any sport during any season of the year.
The MSHSL adheres to guidelines set down by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which states as a basic rule: “Any athlete who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion (such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems) shall be immediately removed from the contest and shall not return to play until cleared by an appropriate health care professional.”
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall or other injury that jars the brain inside the skull. Your brain is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by your skull. The spinal fluid acts like a cushion that keeps the brain from hitting the skull. When the head or body takes a hard hit, the brain can pass through the spinal fluid, collide with the skull and become injured. This is a concussion.
Symptoms of a concussion fall into four categories.
1. Memory and cognition. This involves an inability to concentrate or process new information. A person may feel foggy, or that their thinking is delayed or slower than usual. They may not be able to recall the injury or events just prior or following it.
2. Physical symptoms include loss of consciousness (even briefly), nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, difficulty with balance, fatigue and lack of energy. A loss of consciousness does not always accompany a concussion. It’s important to observe for all symptoms.
3. Emotion and mood can be affected. A person may be prone to anger or become upset for no reason; they may be sad, nervous or anxious.
4. Sleep changes including sleeping more or less than usual and having difficulties falling asleep.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, a student athlete with a concussion may forget plays, be unsure of the game, score or opponent.
Once a concussion has been diagnosed in a student athlete, only an appropriate health care professional can authorize a return to play. This clearance must be in writing and cannot be issued on the same day that the athlete was injured. A parent cannot authorize the return to play, even if the parent is a health care professional.
In general, an athlete may be cleared to return to competition only when the player is free of all signs and symptoms of a concussion at rest and during exercise.
Recovering from a concussion takes time. The brain requires time to heal and the best recovery tool is rest. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used as directed by a doctor. Avoid activities that may be mentally or physically demanding. Refrain from alcohol. A cold pack may reduce swelling. Consult with a physician before driving or operating machinery. Returning to play before the brain is fully heals increases the likelihood of a second concussion. Repeat concussions cause cumulative effects on the brain and can lead to serious consequences.
Certain sports and activities run a higher risk for concussion. When engaging in a contact sport or activity where head injury is possible, wear a helmet that has been properly fitted and is well-maintained. Mouth and eye guards can also help protect from injury. Wear a seat belt every time you ride in a motor vehicle.
The Minnesota State High School League takes head injury seriously – and for good reason. A concussion involves injury to the brain and requires time to heal, or the injury can be compounded. Anyone with a suspected concussion should be diagnosed and treated by a physician so that when they do return to the playing field they can do so with confidence knowing they have made a complete recovery.
Dr. Rogers is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.