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Concussions and Basketball: What Parents, Players and Coaches Should Know

Posted 2/4/2016 by UHBlog

Concerned about suffering a concussion on the court? We can help you recognize and manage it.

Concussions and Basketball: What Parents, Players and Coaches Should Know

You may not think of basketball season as prime time for concussions. But while you’re enjoying March Madness and playoff basketball at all levels (go Cavs!), consider this: Basketball is the second most-frequent sport to result in concussions, behind football in total frequency.

The good news, says neuropsychologist Christopher Bailey, PhD, is that with proper recognition and treatment, the vast majority of concussion sufferers recover fairly quickly.

“We’re hearing in the media that people can have catastrophic outcomes following concussions,” he says. “We shouldn’t minimize that, but over the past few years we have developed effective ways to manage concussions.”

The treatment includes using neurocognitive tests to gauge whether a person has suffered a concussion – and when they’ve recovered. Athletes take a test before the season, and if they sustain a concussion, they repeat testing to make sure their symptoms have resolved before returning to play.

This protocol is key to managing concussions, and not suffering a second one before the first has healed.

“We expect nearly everyone to recover,” Dr. Bailey says. “Eighty to 90 percent of people recover within two to three weeks of the injury – from rest alone.”

Among school sports, basketball generates a relatively high overall number of concussions because many more kids play hoops than most other sports.

“But if you look at the number of concussions per participant, there are fewer in basketball than football, hockey or soccer,” he says.

In fact, in a 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics study of middle-school and high-school athletes, just 2 percent of emergency-room visits for concussions stemmed from basketball, versus seven percent for football.

Often, identifying if an athlete is concussed falls to parents, coaches and/or athletic trainers.

“Because they know the athletes best, they’ll be able to see that the person isn’t acting quite right,” Dr. Bailey says.

Many concussions are obvious immediately after they occur. But concussion symptoms also tend to evolve 24 to 48 hours after injury.

“It’s not uncommon for an athlete to realize they’ve taken a big hit during a game,” he says. “But their adrenaline is going, and the culture of athletics is to play through the pain. The next day, when they go to school or practice, these activities may further elicit the symptoms and make athletes more aware that something is wrong.”

How do you know which symptoms after a blow to the head or body are suspicious for concussion? They include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Change in vision
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Change in behavior
  • Confusion about basic information (day of the week, opponent, plays, recent events, etc.)

If you suspect a concussion, the athlete needs to stop playing. Additionally, it’s time for an evaluation by a physician.

“The most important thing to do is remove the athlete from play,” Dr. Bailey says. “The vast majority of bad outcomes that occur following a concussion tend to occur with repeated injuries prior to resolution of the first one.

“Concussion is about force on the brain,” he says. “Most people think about the brain bouncing off the skull. Usually in sports, that’s not what occurs. More frequently, it’s violent shaking of the brain inside the skull. A person can also take a big blow to the body, and it can cause a whiplash motion that leads to such shaking.”

Benching your budding Lebron is also important because in the early stages of concussion, physical and cognitive activity can prolong the recovery process. And younger athletes can take twice as long – at least two to three weeks – to recover after the injury than adult athletes, who improve in seven to 10 days.

Christopher Bailey, PhD is a neuropsychologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Bailey or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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