What You Need to Know About Young Athletes, Commotio Cordis, & Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Raising Awareness about SCA and Commotio Cordis in Youth

Many of us assume that the more than 350,000 Americans who suffer from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) each year are elderly or suffer from heart disease or other health conditions. While this is certainly true for many, it’s not true for all. In fact, SCA caused by commotio cordis is far more common on the high school playing field than in the halls of your local senior center.

What is Commotio Cordis?

The American Heart Association defines commotio cordis as “a phenomenon in which a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes sudden death in the absence of cardiac damage.” Although the condition was first described in laborers the mid-1700s, in the last couple of decades, commotio cordis events have occurred primarily in sports.

Today, this type of trauma is most often caused by the impact of a ball, hit, or puck to the chest. When an athlete takes a blow to the area directly over the heart at a critical time during the cycle of a heartbeat, it may cause cardiac arrest.

According to the HeartRescue Project, the risk of SCA is three times greater in competitive athletes. The average age of athletes who suffer from sudden cardiac arrest is just 17 and more than two-thirds of young athletes who die suddenly are basketball and football players. Baseball, softball, hockey, and lacrosse players, however, are especially susceptible to commotio cordis.

Even a seemingly insignificant or minor blow to the chest can cause commotio cordis, so it’s critical that members of the coaching staff, athletes, and parents are all well-informed.

Facts about Commotio Cordis

  • More than 224 cases have been reported to the US Commotio Cordis Registry since 1995. It’s estimated, however, that many more cases have not been reported.
  • Based on the Registry cases of commotio cordis the survival rate was 24%.
  • 95% of cases affected males.
  • Commotio cordis most frequently occurs in those aged between 10 and 18 years.
  • 50% of episodes occur during competitive sports, a further 25% occur during recreational sports, and the other 25% occurs during other activities that involve blunt force trauma to the chest wall.

(Source: Life in the Fast Lane)

Preventing Commotio Cordis and SCA Among Athletes

Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely prevent commotio cordis or SCA from occurring. However, by shining a light on the issue, coaches and athletes can reduce the incidence of life-threatening chest trauma and can maximize survival rates by adhering to the following recommendations.

Coach Responsibly

Young athletes should be educated about commotio cordis and should protect themselves and their teammates from taking direct blows to the chest during practice and game time. Coaching staff members should teach techniques that emphasize player safety and encourage players to turn away from the ball to avoid errant pitches, for example.

Consider Using Reduced Impact Balls

These “safety balls” are especially good options for our youngest athletes, who are in the skill-building stages of their development and training. Not only do these balls minimize injuries, but they reduce fear and improve confidence among young players.

Be Alert

If you see an athlete collapse on the field, be proactive! The American Heart Association notes that “resuscitation, once thought to be nearly universally unsuccessful, has now been demonstrated to be successful in up to 35% of commotio cordis victims.”

Learn CPR

Here at Cardio Partners, we believe in the power of CPR. As a team-building exercise, we recommending signing the whole team up for CPR training. Check out our post, 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn CPR, for more information.

Invest in an AED for Your School Gym and Your Fieldhouse

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of AEDs in the Workplace, but parents of athletes and survivors of commotio cordis would argue that the gymnasium and field house is just as important as a public hallway for automatic external defibrillator placement. In most instances, EMTs cannot reasonably be expected to arrive at the scene of a cardiac arrest in less than five minutes. Well-placed public-access AEDs may save the lives of countless young athletes.


AED.com and Cardio Partners offers CPR, first aid, AED, and bloodborne pathogen training courses in all 50 states in traditional classroom settings and in blended learning courses. To learn more about our courses or to equip your school’s athletic facilities with an AED, call our team at 866-349-4362 or email Cardio Partners at customerservice@cardiopartners.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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