News and Information

Ask the Pro - Athletes: Performing With a Head Injury


Ask the Pro - Athletes: Performing With a Head Injury

Sharry Duncan, RN, CEN and Laura Cherry, RN ​

Trauma Services, CaroMont Health

Q: What are the consequences of Olympic gymnast Ellie Downing performing through a head injury?

A: There is an immediate risk for an athlete returning to the field or arena after suffering a head injury, even injuries that appear minor. In fact, after reviewing the NFL criteria for side-lining a player with an injury, if Downing had been playing football, she would have been pulled from an NFL game immediately due to complaints of dizziness and neck pain. When we compared the current neurological exam used by the NFL used to the symptoms that the news reported Downing having, she met two criteria for being subject to immediate removal.

When it comes to a head injury, there is immediate risk in returning to sports after complaining of dizziness. There is a risk of a very rare, often fatal complication associated with return to sports after brain injury or concussion, called second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome happens when a person gets a second concussion before the symptoms of an earlier one have healed. More common is the risk for developing post-concussive syndrome, which can last over a period of months. Symptoms of this include: persistent headache, nausea, dizziness, memory impairment, difficulty concentrating, irritability, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. An athlete who exhibits any of these and symptoms after a head injury should report them immediately to the coach or athletic trainer and should not be returned to the event until evaluated by a physician.

While it may be exciting to see an athlete like Downing push through after a fall, we would recommend that an athlete not continue on, even if a medal is at stake, until they are cleared by their doctor.

CaroMont Regional Medical Center is a Level III Trauma Center, one of only four in North Carolina. We diagnose, treat and manage serious traumatic injuries utilizing a multidisciplinary team to care for trauma patients. Click here to learn more about our emergency care services.

Categories: Current