Concussions in contact sports: A look at DGS athletes


Ellery Johnson

Serious injuries like concussions with long recovery time limit a player’s season.

Jogging across the field, carrying her favorite stick, junior Ellery Johnson is thrilled to be once again playing lacrosse with the District 99 team. It is a typical day at practice; everything is going smoothly until something Johnson never would’ve expected happens and changes her lacrosse career forever – she gets her first concussion. As unexpected as the first concussion was, two more concussions in the future were certainly never in the forecast for Johnson, and the effects of these injuries still have an impact on her to this day.

Johnson explains how the first of the three concussions she has experienced in her lacrosse career was caused.

“The first one was because I was at practice and I was put on defense by my coach. I was guarding a girl right next to the goal, then she rolled to shoot, so I followed her to guard her and the goalie caught her shot. I didn’t realize the goalie was cleaning the shot up until she threw it and the stick hit the top of my head,” Johnson said.

Head Athletic Trainer Stephanie Smith works with lacrosse players as well as other contact sports teams, and she has dealt with a large number of concussions and similar injuries.

“We see a fair share of injuries in any sport that is contact. That is where you see the majority of acute injuries… With lacrosse, we see a ton of injuries. Between the contact with the stick as well as the speed that the ball travels it is easy to get bruises and concussions,” Smith said.

The symptoms of a concussion include, but are not limited to: headache, nausea, troubled vision and balance, sensitivity to noise and light, and concentration problems. Though the symptoms seem mild, the impacts concussions have on an athlete’s health and future are major.

Johnson describes what she felt while suffering her first concussion.

“I fell down, I was immediately nauseous and dizzy, so my coaches pulled me from the field immediately,” Johnson said.

For people who have suffered a concussion, the risk of future concussions continues to increase exponentially. For example, a second concussion is 1-2 times more likely, a third is 2-4 times more likely, a fourth is 3-9 times more likely, and so on.

This increased probability of future concussions proved itself to Johnson when she suffered from two more concussions after the first.

“I was practicing to be able to go back to playing lacrosse, and I hit my head with the ball instead of catching it… The third [concussion] happened when I was in a game and a girl went to check my stick and hit me in the head,” Johnson said.

The increased probability of future concussions in people who have previously experienced one also includes a worsening of the symptoms of the future concussions as opposed to the first concussion a person experiences.

“My second and third [concussions] had similar symptoms but were more severe, since I was still recovering from the first [concussion],” Johnson said.

Though contact sports are associated with the most acute injuries such as concussions, it is important to have caution when engaging in any sort of physical activity, as the potential risks brought by injuries and concussions are serious.

“Contact sports are where we see the most concussions, but there are also instances where that is not always true. We have seen students get concussions in a variety of ways… Playing every sport comes with risks. I know that football, hockey, and lacrosse are in the forefront of concussions because they are considered a high contact sport, but a concussion can happen in everyday life,” Smith said.

When an athlete suffers a concussion, not only does the injury have a large impact on the athlete and their athletic career, but it can also affect the entire team.

“When an athlete gets a concussion, they will be out of the sport for some time. It is hard to say exactly how long they will be out, as every concussion and every person is different. If the person was a key player, another athlete would have to step up into their place,” Smith said.

As she recovers, Johnson plans to return to lacrosse in the upcoming 2022-2023 season.