Children and adolescents who participate in athletics are at risk of sports-related concussions. SRCs occur more often in some sports than others. For example, they are relatively rare in swimming or track and field but more prevalent in girls’ soccer and boys’ football. However, SRCs can occur in any sport, meaning parents of children who participate have legitimate cause for concern.
Due to the risk of more serious injury that can occur from multiple head traumas in short succession, sideline assessment for possible SRC is vital. Depending in part on the symptoms present, performing several different techniques may be appropriate to make a thorough assessment. It is best if a knowledgeable health care provider performs it.
A severe impact to the head may leave a young athlete unconscious on the field of play. If this is the case, he or she may have a life-threatening injury. The initial assessment should include evaluating that there is no airway obstruction and that breathing and circulation are adequate. “ABC” may be a useful mnemonic to those performing the assessment.
A spinal cord injury may accompany a sports-related head trauma. However, assessment for a spinal cord injury can only take place if the patient is conscious. If the patient remains unconscious, the person performing the assessment should immobilize the athlete’s neck to prevent further injury.
An athlete who is conscious after a blow to the head can describe his or her symptoms to others. The person performing the assessment should be alert to the following red flags that warrant emergency medical attention:
- Convulsions or seizures
- Repeated vomiting
- Deteriorating consciousness
- A combative state
- Tingling or weakness of the limbs
Sport Concussion Assessment Tool
After ruling out a medical emergency, the person performing the assessment can gauge the level of injury with an assessment tool such as the commonly used SCAT. It involves symptom observation, cervical spine assessment, Glasgow Coma Scale and memory evaluation. There are two different versions of the SCAT, one for adolescents and adults and one for children younger than 13.
Sideline assessment is not a substitute for evaluation in a medical setting. Due to the risk of complications, an injured child should see a doctor at a medical facility promptly following head trauma.