What to do if a footballer passes out?


In football there is always the possibility of passing out after a collision. Not all players are trained in first aid.

Second of March 2017. Riazor stadium. There are a few minutes left before the referee blows the full time whistle when Alex Bergantiños and Fernando Torres both jump to get their heads on the ball in flight. A heavy collision where the Atlético forward got the short end of the stick. ‘El Niño’ falls from the sky, hits the ground and loses consciousness. His teammates and a defender from Deportivo all rush to help him out, trying to keep his mouth open so he doesn’t suffocate on his own tongue. Luckily it wasn’t as serious as it first seemed. But did his teammates attend to him correctly? Did they do the right thing in putting their fingers in his mouth and moving his body?

Incidents as such aren’t as uncommon as they seem on the pitch. Football is a contact sport and there is always the chance of passing out after a collision or a fall. However not all players are trained in first aid, as shown with the incident involving Torres. In fact, the teammates of the Rojiblanco’s forward could have made the situation worse. Their intentions were good, but they didn’t intervene in the best way. And in these sort of situations one small mistake could possibly leave the casualty of the blow paralysed.

El doctor Paul Auerbach.
Paul Auerbach (Stanford Medical School).

“If a footballer faints and losses consciousness, the first thing to do is to check that he is still breathing”, Paul Auerbach explains, doctor at the emergency ward of the Stanford Medical School (USA). “You have to check the mouth to ensure that the flow of air isn’t obstructed by the tongue or vomit. Then correctly position the head, neck and jaw using concrete manoeuvres. If the person is vomiting, you must quickly position them to their side, in the recovery position, so that the mouth can be emptied and the person doesn’t choke.

Nevertheless doctor Auerbach warns that things can be complicated in situations like Fernando Torres. “If a player passes out due to a fall or a collision, then there’s the probability that they may have broken their neck. If this this occurs, the situation should be dealt with extreme precaution and they must be very careful when moving the person. It’s vital to make sure that the neck doesn’t move and maintain the head perfectly inline with the body without it inclining forward or backward”.

However the case, if the person that has fainted is breathing and isn’t choking, the best thing to do is to not move them and wait for professional help to avoid any injury to the spine. Especially on top division grounds where medics take only 30 seconds to attend to an unconscious player. But if the person is breathing and isn’t able to receive assistance from a professional, then you have to move them onto their side trying to avoid any movement from the axis of the neck and head, as shown by doctor Auerbach, author of the book on medical practice, Wilderness Medicine.

Curso de primeros auxilios para los alumnos de Alto Rendimiento Marcet.
A first aid course organised for scholars at the Marcet High Performance Academy.

Even though fainting in football isn’t an everyday thing, what happened to Fernando Torres is one of the most common occurrences on a long list of incidents. Due to this it’s important that all players are trained so that they can attend teammates in case of an emergency. With this in mind, at Marcet first aid courses have been organised for scholars at the High Performance Academy. With a helping hand from the instructors from the Red Cross, young footballers from all 5 continents have been taught how to assess casualties from potential accidents to evaluate their physical condition and know how to deal with each different situation, for example with CPR or mouth-to-mouth. Some methods that are vital in the world of sport and also important off the pitch. And they can save lives.

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