First aid: Responding to head injuries in sport

There is increasing evidence demonstrating the proven correlation between repeated head injuries in football and dementia: former professional footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die of dementia and other serious neurological diseases. As such, coaches and parents must be aware of the risks surrounding head injuries, and what to do if a player experiences one.

When most people bang their heads, it can be difficult to tell whether they have done any serious damage. Most head injuries are not serious, but severe or repeated injuries can cause damage to the brain.

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Symptoms of a concussion 

It is important to note that only 10% of head injuries result in loss of consciousness. There are many other symptoms you should keep an eye out for.

first aid In a child, look for loss of consciousness, intense crying, trouble walking, and complaints of head and neck pain. If your child experiences these, call 999 or 111.

Following a head injury during sports, players may experience:

  • loss of consciousness
  • difficulty with coordination
  • delayed reactions
  • heightened emotions
  • changes in personality


If any of the above occur, call the emergency services immediately.

If they are unconscious, ensure you roll them into the recovery position to ensure their airway remains open, whilst protecting their spine. In the event where they are unconscious and not breathing, you would need to start CPR.

There will be some symptoms that you will need to ask them about:

  • headache
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty remembering things
  • feeling dizzy
  • being more sensitivity to light/ sound


Coaches and parents should be confident in removing any player who has experienced even a minor head injury. They should stop playing straight away and sit off the pitch somewhere warm and dry and be monitored closely for anything unusual.


Repeated head injuries can increase the risk of brain injury. Call an ambulance if you see any of the following:

  • Abnormal breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bleeding/ clear fluid from the nose, ear, or mouth
  • Unequal pupils
  • Vomiting more than two or three times


If the casualty is not an infant, has not lost consciousness, and is alert and behaving normally after; talk to them and check they know where they are. Continue to monitor them for the next 48 hours. Keep observing them and checking their symptoms.


To relieve any superficial swelling or pain, you can periodically apply a wrapped ice pack to the area for up to ten minutes.

If they are unusually drowsy or can’t be woken, call an ambulance.

The most important step following an injury is rest. A player must have at least 24 hours complete rest for an adult, and 48 for a child or adolescent. No one should go home to an empty house: an adult must always be observing the casualty, conscious of the symptoms of a brain injury.

The player must follow the gradual return to activity or sport (GRAS) guide to ensure a safe recovery. A free copy of this can be found at, or by emailing . More information can also be found on England Rugby’s website.


Following a concussion children and adolescents must abstain from playing sport for 23 days; this is 19 days for an adult.

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Article written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

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First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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