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Concussion Policies & Best Practices

American Water Polo suggest the following guidelines for concussion warning signs and care.  The Center for Disease Control(CDC) has a course called HEADS UP, this free online training session provides additional information for concussion education.

Suggested Best Practices


The standard of care for current medical practice and the law in many states requires that any athlete with a suspected concussion is immediately removed from play.

  • A concussion is a traumatic brain injury- there is no such thing as a minor brain injury.
  • A player does not have to be “knocked-out” to have a concussion- less than 10% of players& actually lose consciousness.
  • A concussion can result from a blow to head, neck or body.
  • The youth water polo player’s brain is more susceptible to concussion.
  • In addition, the concussion in a young athlete may be harder to diagnosis, takes longer to  recover, is more likely to have a recurrence and be associated with serious long-term effects.
  • Treatment is individualized and it is impossible to predict when the athlete will be allowed to return to play- there is no timetable.

A player with any symptoms or signs; disorientation; impaired memory, concentration, balance or
recall has a concussion.

Remember these steps:
  1. Remove immediately from play (training, practice or game)
  2. Inform the player’s parents
  3. Refer the athlete to a qualified health-care professional
  4. Treatment begins with complete physical and cognitive rest
  5. When free of symptoms, the athlete begins a graded exertion protocol.
  6. Medical clearance is required for return to play

Players, coaches, parents and heath care providers should be able to recognize the symptoms and signs of a concussion:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Poor balance
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Noise Sensitivity
  • Sluggish
  • Foggy
  • Groggy
  • Confusion
  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Confused about assignment
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers slowly
  • Behavior or personality changes
  • Unsure of score or opponent
  • Can’t recall events after the injury
  • Can’t recall events before the injury
 Management Protocol
  1. If the player is unresponsive- call for help & dial 911
  2. If the athlete is not breathing: remove the athlete from the pool, assume a neck injury when removing start CPR
  • DO NOT rush the evaluation
  1. Assume a neck injury until proven otherwise

DO NOT have the athlete sit up or skate off until you have determined:

  • no neck pain
  • no pain, numbness or tingling
  • no mid-line neck tenderness
  • normal muscle strength
  • normal sensation to light touch
  1. If the athlete is conscious & responsive without symptoms or signs of a neck injury…
  • perform an evaluation
  • do not leave them alone
  1. Evaluate the player in the locker room:
  • Ask about concussion symptoms (How do you feel?)
  • Examine for signs
  • Verify orientation (What day is it?, What is the score?, Who are we playing?)
  • Check immediate memory  (Repeat a list of 5 words)
  • Test concentration(List the months in reverse order)
  • Test balance (have the players stand on both legs, one leg and one floor in fron of the other with their eyes closed for 20 seconds)
  • Check delayed recall (repeat the previous 5 words after 5-10 minutes)
  1. A player with any symptoms or signs, disorientation, impaired memory, concentration, balance or recall is likely to have a concussion. However, the ultimate determination should be made by a qualified healthcare professional.
 “When in doubt, sit them out”
  • Remove immediately from play (training, practice or game
  • Inform the player’s parents
  • Refer the athlete to a qualified health-care professional
  • Medical clearance is required for return to play
  1. If any of the signs or symptoms listed below develop or worsen: go to the hospital emergency
    department or dial 911.
  • Severe throbbing headache
  • Dizziness or loss of coordination
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Unequal pupil size
  • No pupil reaction to light
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions or tremors
  • Sleepiness or grogginess
  • Clear fluid running from the nose and/or ears
  • Numbness or paralysis (partial or complete)
  • Difficulty in being aroused
  1. An athlete who is symptomatic after a concussion requires complete physical and cognitive rest.
  • A concussed athlete should not participate in any physical activity, return to school, play video games or text message if he or she is having symptoms at rest.
  • Concussion symptoms & signs evolve over time- the severity of the injury and estimated time to return to play are unpredictable.
Post-Concussion Functional Return to Play Protocol

This protocol should not be initiated until after the athlete has been released to participate in the functional return to play protocol by a qualified health care provider. If symptoms appear during a functional test, the test should be stopped and the athlete monitored until symptoms resolve.  No further functional testing should be performed that day.  Functional testing may resume the following day at the previously asymptomatic level if the athlete remains asymptomatic.  If symptoms do not resolve, appropriate medical attention should be obtained.

After each phase of functional testing, the presence of post-concussive symptoms should be assessed and progression to the next phase of functional testing will require the absence of post-concussive symptoms.  Each phase requires a minimum of 1 day before progressing to the next phase.

Level 1:  Physical and cognitive rest.
Level 2:  Light aerobic exercise such as walking or stationary cycling.  No resistance training.  May read 20-40% of normal volume. Limited TV, but  No video games. Partial school day as tolerated.
Level 3:  Sport-specific exercises.  No resistance training.  May read 40-60 % of normal volume.  No video games.  Full school day as tolerated.
Level 4:  Non-contact practice.  Resistance training  OK.  No video games. Full school day.
Level 5:  Full contact practice.  Full school day.  Video games OK.
Level 6:  Return to unrestricted competition and cognitive activities if medical clearance is provided by a qualified health care provider.

Information provided by:

Michael Stuart MD Alan Ashare MD
and USA Hockey