Concussions in sports can be prevented through the use of a variety of strategies, These may include:
- Intensifying the enforcement of existing safety rules;
- Teaching sportsmanship;
- Limiting physical contact during training; and
- Removing tripping hazards from the playing field.
Different sports require different safety precautions.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by an external impact. An external impact can cause the brain to twist inside the skull or to bounce against the inside of the skull. The skull, designed by nature to protect the brain, thus becomes the brain’s worst enemy. The result is often stretching of the brain, cell damage, and metabolic changes in the brain. Although most concussion victims fully recover, some suffer permanent brain damage, while others die.
Do Helmets Prevent Concussions?
It’s time to answer the question clearly. Do helmets prevent concussions? No, helmets do not prevent concussions, at least not reliably. What helmets do is protect you against skull fractures and cuts. Although some new brands of helmets claim that their product can protect you against concussions, research does not back up their claims.
Ultimately, there is no helmet available that can prevent the brain from moving inside your skull. Helmets may even increase the incidence of concussions because a player wearing a helmet may gain a false sense of security. This may encourage them to take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t have taken, such as butting helmets with an opponent.
Concussion Prevention Measures
Certain principles of concussion prevention apply to every sport, while other principles are specific to particular sports. One of the primary principles that applies to any sport is that those who have recently suffered a concussion, should not play. Doing so risks deadly second-impact syndrome. Other universal principles include the following.
Limit Physical Contact During Training and Practice
Sustaining a concussion is just as likely during training or practice as it is during an actual match. In fact, without strict limitations on physical contact, a concussion is more likely during training, since an athlete spends more time in training than in matches.
Strictly Enforce the Rules of Sportsmanship
The rules of sportsmanship are designed in part to prevent injury. Make sure your players know exactly what you expect of them and exactly what consequences you will impose if they fail to follow the rules. Then follow through without exception. Certain actions should be absolutely forbidden, such as:
- Hitting another athlete in the head (except in combat sports);
- Tripping another athlete;
- Deliberately colliding with an unprotected opponent; and
- Intentionally injuring or endangering another player.
A number of other actions should be off-limits as well, depending on the sport.
Keep the Playing Field Safe
The most important action you can take in a wide variety of sports is to inspect the field prior to a game and remove any tripping hazards you discover. Slip-and-fall accidents contribute to concussions more than almost any other cause. You should also inspect all the equipment to ensure it is in good condition.
Sport-by-Sport Concussion Prevention Measures
Following is a description of some of the safety precautions that apply to individual sports.
Since football is the nation’s most popular high-impact sport, preventing concussions should be a priority. Following are some tips:
- Teach your players how to avoid blows to the helmet. These methods vary from sport to sport, and football has its own special set of safety precautions.
- Forbid helmet-to-helmet and helmet-to-head contact. Ironically, without these measures, helmets can cause more concussions than they prevent.
- Pad the goal posts and any other equipment that might cause injury.
- Watch closely for any injuries during practice or play. Remember that linebackers and running backs are particularly likely to suffer concussions during running plays.
- Keep access to a certified trainer any time you are practicing or holding a match.
Be aware that no matter how carefully you enforce the rules, you cannot guarantee that no concussions will occur. You can, however, deal with them appropriately when they do happen.
Theoretically, basketball is a no-contact sport. The reality is often quite different, however. Most basketball-related concussions result from collisions between players (diving for a loose ball, etc.). Following are a couple of easy-to-remember rules:
- Do not allow head-to-head contact or head butting, and
- Forbid dangerous fouls.
You might want to consider padding the walls of the gym if the gym is small enough to pose a danger to players.
In baseball, catchers and umpires are at the greatest risk for concussions, followed by pitchers. The following tips can help you reduce the risk of a concussion:
- Avoid collisions at home plate, the most likely place that a concussion-producing collision will occur;
- Stay alert while waiting on bases—even a pop fly could cause a concussion if it catches you by surprise; and
- Practice protecting yourself from line drives, especially if you are a pitcher.
The overall concussion risk in baseball is lower than in most other sports.
Boxing is a unique sport because the object of the game is to cause your opponent to suffer a concussion (to “knock out” your opponent). Although amateur boxers face a lesser risk of concussion than professional boxers do, even amateur boxers face a 13% risk of concussion for each bout they participate in.
- Instruct boxers on defensive techniques as well as offensive techniques. In other words, train your boxers to avoid “slugfests.”
- Intensify enforcement of all of the general concussion prevention methods that apply to every sport, such as rules of sportsmanship, limiting contact during training, etc.
Take a boxer out of combat after a concussion, and keep them out until they are fully healed. This is far more important in boxing than in any non-combat sport.
As an ice hockey coach or trainer, you are going to need to completely reject the stereotypical “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out” mentality. Concussion rates are particularly high in ice hockey. Most hockey-related concussions are related to some form of contact with another player.
Strictly enforce the following rules to create a safer environment:
- Ban any kind of fighting, except in self-defense, with severe penalties for any violation; and
- Keep your eye on the players in the wing position, because they are particularly likely to suffer from concussions.
In general, make sure that your players abide by the safety principles that apply to any sport, such as following the rules of good sportsmanship and limiting physical contact during practice.
Wrestling is a brutally intense contact sport that requires sudden moves to “take down” an opponent. Obviously, slamming your opponent’s head onto a mat is likely to produce a concussion—yet without takedowns, there would be no sport of wrestling. Observing the following tips can reduce the incidence of concussions:
- Make sure that all your wrestlers understand and use appropriate takedown techniques; and
- Teach your wrestlers how to avoid head-to-head contact with their opponent.
Given the nature of the sport and the object of the game, it is probably unrealistic to expect to completely eliminate concussions in wrestling.
Volleyball, like basketball, is a no-contact sport in theory but not in practice. In volleyball, collisions among teammates are most likely. As in basketball, concussions typically occur when two players are diving for a loose ball. Enforcing the following rules can help reduce the risk of concussions:
- Teach appropriate diving and digging techniques to all your players, and insist that they use them;
- Generously pad the net poles; and
- Have your players “call the ball” (“I’ve got it!”) to avoid collisions between teammates scrambling for a loose ball.
As a coach, pay special attention to players in the setter and hitter positions. They face more concussion risk than other players.
Concussion Lawsuits: The Difficulty of Proving Causation
If you suffered a concussion in a sporting accident, you might file a lawsuit or claim against an insurance policy. In a sports injury lawsuit based on a claim of post-concussion syndrome, you must prove that you suffered harm, that the defendant was negligent, and that the defendant’s negligence is what caused your harm. In most concussion lawsuits against a negligent supervisory authority, the hardest element to prove is causation.
Ultimately, you will almost certainly need to rely on the testimony of an expert witness—probably a doctor—to establish your claim. The problem is that doctors often disagree on whether someone is suffering from post-concussion syndrome. You will present your expert witness, and the defendant will present their expert witness whose testimony contradicts your witness’s testimony. So who wins? You bear the burden of proof.
Negotiating with an Insurance Company
Most victims prefer to at least try to negotiate with an insurance company before filing a lawsuit. It is easier to negotiate a settlement when your injuries are clear cut, like a broken bone. The post-concussion syndrome may be harder to prove. You may eventually have to choose between accepting a lower settlement (if any at all) or taking the matter to court.
In court, you will need to present strong evidence of post-concussion syndrome. The insurance company will try to cast doubt on your claims. Are you suffering from post-concussion syndrome, or do you just suffer from chronic migraines? If doctors disagree on whether you are suffering from post-concussion syndrome, this can further complicate matters.
For all of these reasons, you are going to need the services of a top-tier personal injury law firm, both at the negotiating table and in court, to give yourself a fighting chance to win your post-concussion syndrome claim.
Don’t Give Up Easily—Fight Back!
If you or your loved one has suffered a concussion in a high-impact sport, any attempt you make to seek redress is likely to be met with either stonewalling or an offer of woefully inadequate compensation. Until the responsible party learns that you have retained Berkowitz Hanna to represent you, that is. Contact us for a free consultation by calling 203-487-5728 or by completing our online contact form. We will not charge any legal fees unless we win your case.