A Concussion or a Bump on the Head? When Sports Injuries on the Field Can Mean Long-Term Problems off the Field

Our sports medicine experts weigh-in on when athletes and sports enthusiasts should seek medical attention for head injuries.

Concussions are sneaky. Most people think they are caused by significant, direct trauma to the head, but a light hit and even indirect blows to the body can trigger neurological problems.

To learn more about the risks of concussion and their treatments, we reached out to James E. Tibone, MD, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, and Seth C. Gamradt, MD, director of orthopaedic athletic medicine and associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. Both work with USC athletes and other major sports teams, like the New York Giants, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Rams.

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Seth C. Gamradt, MD, James E. Tibone, MD

What are symptoms of a concussion?

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in energy levels

What tests do we use to diagnose concussions?

The severity of symptoms determines the type of testing we use to evaluate our athletes:

  • Neurological tests assess motor and sensory skills, hearing, speech, vision, coordination and balance.
  • MRI and CT scans take pictures of the brain so that physicians can identify suspected bleeding or swelling.

What treatment do we recommend for concussions?

The most common and effective treatment is rest and exercise. USC Athletics leads the field using electroencephalography to measure brain waves and determine when a player is back to normal.

The best treatment for concussions is to avoid them altogether.

Our football coaches teach players how to avoid concussions, by learning how to tackle correctly by not leading with their heads. Proper tackling technique includes ‘seeing what you hit’ and not hitting with your helmet. For both recreational and elite athletes, knowing the fundamentals of the game helps diminish injury-related risks.

Educating players about the symptoms and signs of concussions and encouraging them to report signs to the athletic staff is critical. The Trojans have multiple Keck Medicine medical staff on the sidelines and in the press box to look for potential problems during football games; if there is ever a question about the potential of a concussion, the player does not go back into the game. High school and recreational athletes need to take responsibility for their brain health without the luxury of a doctor on-site.

The long-term effects of multiple concussions are unknown, but recent studies indicate links to long-term neurodegenerative diseases, like chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why necessary precautions and full recovery are important before heading back onto the field. Our number one job is to keep players safe, now and in the future.

Our orthopaedic surgeons do not just treat collegiate and professional athletes. We treat everyone from high school athletes to weekend warriors to young adolescent players.

by Heidi Tyline King

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment, by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://www.ortho.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.