Young people with sports-related concussions who return to play too soon risk devastation or death from “second impact syndrome,” according to the new edition of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics. The journal details the case of a 23-year-old Indiana man who returned to high school football following a concussion. Six years later, he is wheelchair-bound with limited speech and cognition.
Reports of second impact syndrome are rare, but more than 3.8 million sports-related concussions happen every year. A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury (TBI) that may occur when the head hits an object, or a moving object strikes the head. The brain is more vulnerable after a concussion, so even a small subsequent impact can cause irreversible damage. That means a minor knock to the head or chest can devastate a player because it makes the brain move inside the skull, causing rapid swelling. For the Indiana man profiled in the journal, the “impact” came from brushing shoulders with a teammate during practice.
In December 2011, the American College of Sports Medicine issued new concussion guidelines that specify, “Under no circumstances should an athlete suspected of, or diagnosed with, a concussion return to play the day of the injury,” and that an athlete should return to play based on an individualized medical evaluation, not “a rigid timeline or solely on the demands of a particular sport.”