If you play sports or follow professional or college teams, you probably know that concussions are a serious issue. Playing sports increases a person's risk of falls and collisions with objects or other players. These can cause concussions — a type of brain injury. That's true of all sports, not just contact sports like football and hockey. As long as people play sports, there will be concussions from time to time. But wearing the right protective gear and playing the right way can make a brain injury less likely. If you do get a concussion, take a break from sports. Making sure you let your brain heal completely helps prevent long-term problems. How Do Concussions Happen? The brain is soft. The body protects it by cushioning it in cerebrospinal fluid inside a hard skull. Because the brain floats in the fluid, it can move around and even bang against the skull. A fall or collision that makes the brain bang against the skull can bruise the brain. It also can tear blood vessels and injure nerves. These injuries can cause a concussion — a temporary loss of normal brain function. There are lots of ways concussions can happen in sports, such as: helmet-to-helmet tackles in football getting checked against the boards in hockey heading a ball incorrectly in soccer skateboarding or biking wipeouts collisions between skiers or snowboarders How Can I Prevent a Sports Concussion? Start With the Right Equipment Everyone should wear properly fitting, sport-appropriate headgear and safety equipment when playing contact sports or biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, snowboarding, or skiing. You can't prevent every concussion. But helmets, mouthguards, and other safety gear can reduce the risk of a brain injury. Play it Safe Headgear is your first line of defense. But you can still get a concussion because helmets don't stop injury from happening on the inside. If you hit your head, your brain can still bang against your skull, even if you're wearing a helmet. Don't take chances because you think your headgear protects you. This is one reason why there are rules in sports. Learning the right technique and developing the skill to avoid dangerous plays can make all kinds of injuries less likely to happen. What if I Have a Head Injury? If you hurt your head while playing a sport, stop playing immediately. A coach should know to take you off the field. But if you don't have a coach, or your coach doesn't pull you from play, take yourself out of the game. If you're skiing or snowboarding, get the ski patrol to help you down the hill. If you're skateboarding or biking, stop riding. Don't take a chance on hurting your head again. A second head injury can lead to a condition called second-impact syndrome. Second-impact syndrome doesn't happen very often, but it can cause lasting brain damage and even death. If you hurt your head playing organized sports, a coach or athletic trainer may examine you right after your injury. This is known as sideline testing because it might happen on the sidelines during a game. Sideline testing is common in schools and sports leagues. By watching you and doing a few simple tests, a trained person can see if you need medical care. Lots of schools or sports leagues test players at the start of a sports season to measure their normal brain function. These tests are called baseline concussion tests. Coaches, trainers, or doctors often compare these baseline results against sideline tests to see if a player's brain is working OK. What Are the Signs of a Concussion? If you were playing a sport and banged your head but didn't see a doctor when it happened, be alert for signs of a concussion. Concussions don't always show up right away. It can take up to 3 days for signs to become obvious. See a doctor as soon as you can if think you might have a concussion and develop any of these problems: headache dizziness feeling sick or throwing up difficulty with coordination or balance blurred vision slurred speech or saying things that don't make sense feeling confused and dazed difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions trouble remembering things feeling sleepy having trouble falling asleep sleeping more or less than usual feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason feeling sad or more emotional than usual When Can I Return to Play After a Concussion? The #1 question athletes ask after a concussion is how soon they can start playing again. The answer is simple: When a doctor tells you it's OK. Concussions can be tricky: You might feel fine, but your thinking, behavior, and/or balance may not be back to normal. Only a doctor can tell these things for sure. It's essential to wait until the doctor says it's safe to return to sports. But people sometimes feel pressure to start playing again — they worry about letting down the team or they feel pushed by a coach. That's one reason why most U.S. states have rules about when kids and teens can start playing sports again after a concussion. These rules are there to protect players so they're not pushed into getting back in the game too soon — when the risk of re-injury is high. There are a number of ways doctors can tell if someone is ready to return to play. A doctor will consider you healed when: the signs and symptoms of concussion are gone you regain all of your memory and concentration you don't have symptoms after jogging, sprinting, sit-ups, or push-ups When your doctor gives you the OK to start playing sports again, ease back into things. Stop playing right away if any symptoms return (that second-impact syndrome thing again). With the right diagnosis and treatment, most teens with concussions recover within a week or two without lasting health problems. Back to Articles Related Articles Concussions How can you tell if you have a concussion? What should you do? And what's going to happen with sports and school? The facts are all on this site for teens. Read More Concussions In a concussion, the brain shifts inside the skull. This can cause a sudden - but usually temporary - disruption in a person's ability to function properly and feel well. Here's what to do if you suspect a concussion. Read More Concussions: Getting Better All body parts take time to heal, even brains.This article for teens has tips on what doctors often recommend to help people heal from a concussion. Read More School and Concussions A concussion can affect you at school because it's a type of brain injury. Doing schoolwork and being in a classroom can sometimes make things worse. Here's what to know about school and concussions. Read More Dealing With Sports Injuries You practiced hard and made sure you wore protective gear, but you still got hurt. Read this article to find out how to take care of sports injuries - and how to avoid getting them. Read More Sports and Exercise Safety Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how. Read More Concussions: Alex's Story Alex plays high school football, track, basketball, and lacrosse. He's had two concussions. Here, he talks about his experience and what he learned. Read More Safety Tips: Football Football is a lot of fun, but since the name of the game is to hit somebody, injuries are common. To keep things as safe as possible, follow these tips. Read More Safety Tips: Snowboarding Snowboarding is a great way to have fun, but it can also present some very real dangers. Follow these safety tips to learn how to stay safe on the slopes. Read More Safety Tips: Skateboarding Skateboarding is undeniably cool, but it's also easy to get hurt. Keep it safe while skateboarding with these safety tips. Read More Safety Tips: Skiing There's a lot to love about skiing, but it can also present some very real dangers. Follow these tips to stay safe on the slopes. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.