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Neurosurgery. 2001 Jan;48(1):26-45; discussion 45-6.

Head injury in athletes.

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Department of Neurosurgery, West Virginia University, School of Medicine, Morgantown 26506, USA.


HEAD INJURIES INCURRED during athletic endeavors have been recorded since games were first held. During the last century, our level of understanding of the types of cerebral insults, their causes, and their treatment has advanced significantly. Because of the extreme popularity of sports in the United States and worldwide, the implications of athletic head injury are enormous. This is especially true considering the current realization that mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) or concussion represents a major health consideration with more long-ranging effects than previously thought. When considering athletic injuries, people who engage in organized sports, as well as the large number of people who engage in recreational activities, should be considered. There are 200 million international soccer players, a group increasingly recognized to be at risk for MTBI. The participation in contact sports of a large number of the population, especially youth, requires a careful and detailed analysis of injury trends and recommended treatment. There are numerous characteristics of this patient population that make management difficult, especially their implicit request to once again be subjected to potential MTBI by participating in contact sports. Recent research has better defined the epidemiological issues related to sports injuries involving the central nervous system and has also led to classification and management paradigms that help guide decisions regarding athletes' return to play. We currently have methods at our disposal that greatly assist us in managing this group of patients, including improved recognition of the clinical syndromes of MTBI, new testing such as neuropsychological assessment, radiographic evaluations, and a greater appreciation of the pathophysiology of concussive brain injury. The potential for long-term consequences of repetitive MTBI has been recognized, and we no longer consider the "dinged" states of athletic concussions to have the benign connotations they had in the past. We review the historical developments in the recognition and care of athletes with head injuries, the current theory of the pathophysiology and biomechanics of these insults, and the recommended management strategy, including return-to-play criteria.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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