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From sprains, strains and shin splints, to fractures, dislocations and cuts, there are many ways you can be hurt when playing sports. But perhaps no injury is as alarming as one to the head. While sports injuries usually don’t contribute to fatalities, the number one cause of death from sports-related injuries is traumatic brain injury.
A traumatic brain injury occurs when normal function of the brain is disrupted by a blow or jolt to the head, or if an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. This type of injury can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity of brain damage. Signs of injury to the head may include headache, problems with balance, trouble coordinating motor skills, changes in sensory perception, impaired cognitive abilities or difficulty speaking.
According to a study published by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, a review of 2009 data provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that more than 446,000 sports-related head injuries were treated in American emergency rooms. The top five causes of injuries are cycling, football, baseball and softball, basketball and water sports such as swimming, diving, scuba diving, surfing, water polo or water skiing. Other sports/recreational activities that contribute to the number of head injuries treated in U.S. hospitals include powered recreational vehicles (such as go-carts, all-terrain vehicles, dune buggies or mini bikes), soccer, skateboards, skiing and snowboarding, horseback riding, gymnastics, golf and hockey.
One of the best ways to prevent a sports-related head injury is to wear protective head gear or a helmet that has been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for specific sports. ASTM-approved helmets, which have been thoroughly tested for many sports, must fit properly to provide maximum protection against head injuries. In cycling, for example, an estimated 85 percent of head injuries can be prevented by properly using approved helmets.
Other safety apparel or gear may also be necessary for certain sports, such as football. Additional ways to prevent head injuries include not wearing clothing that may interfere with vision, not participating in a sport when ill or overly tired, avoiding uneven surfaces when cycling or skateboarding, and not diving into shallow water or above-ground pools.
In a situation that involves head trauma, try to keep the injured person lying down, with head and shoulders slightly elevated, until medical help arrives. Stop bleeding by applying firm pressure to the head wound, but not direct pressure if there might be a skull fracture. Be aware of changes in breathing and alertness, and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation if the person shows no signs of circulation.
It is important to remember that with head injuries recovery will be variable and the more severe the injury, the higher the chances are for permanent impairment. Traumatic or more severe brain injuries can cause physical, cognitive, behavioral or emotional problems.