6 Facts About Commotio Cordis in Young Athletes and How You Can Help


When Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, spectators were stunned. The immediate medical attention he received saved his life. As news about his condition unfolds, many parents of young athletes wonder what commotio cordis is. Could it happen to their child at a practice or a game? What can parents do to protect student athletes?

6 Facts About Commotio Cordis

  1. Commotio cordis is sudden cardiac arrest that can occur when someone experiences a hit to the chest directly over the heart. In the sports world, it is typically caused when a ball or puck impacts the area over the athlete’s heart and disrupts the normal heartbeat cycle. It results in the athlete going down on the field and not moving, breathing, or having a pulse.
  2. The condition is rare, with approximately 30 cases reported each year. The majority of cases happen to adolescent athletes.
  3. The average age of athletes who experience commotio cordis is 10 to 18 years old.
  4. The most common sports played by athletes who suffer from the condition are the following, in order of frequency: baseball, softball, hockey, football, and lacrosse.
  5. 95 percent of those who experience commotio cordis are male.
  6. The survival rate is approximately 24 percent. Fast medical attention can significantly increase the survival rate.

What can parents, coaches, and spectators do to help prevent commotio cordis?

While it is not possible to prevent commotio cordis completely, there are ways to reduce the risk and improve the outcomes if a player has a hit to the chest, including:

  1. Coaches should educate young athletes about ways to protect themselves and other players from direct hits to the chest. Techniques that emphasize player safety should be taught and used in practice and during games.
  2. Parents can look for sports programs that use safety balls and equipment (including uniforms such as those with extra padding), or ask the coaches if safety equipment can be used with young athletes. This can reduce injuries and improve confidence among young players.
  3. If you see an athlete fall on the field and not get up, make sure they receive medical attention as quickly as possible. The first few minutes are critically important.
  4. If you are trained in CPR, you can administer CPR to the athlete. There is a Good Samaritan law in Massachusetts that protects those who administer first aid and CPR. If you do not know CPR, consider signing up for a class. The American Red Cross and the American Heart Association both have databases of available CPR classes.
  5. Help ensure there is an automated external defibrillator (AED) located on the field, or where your student athlete practices and competes. Convenient access to AEDs save lives. The device is very user-friendly. Once powered on, many AEDs will automatically walk the user through using it. Ask a coach or athletic director where the nearest AEDs are. If there is not one nearby, ask how you can help get them purchased and installed in convenient locations.
  6. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about additional ways to keep them safe in sports.

This information was reviewed by Robert C. Cantu, MD, director of the Cantu Concussion Center at Emerson Health and a renowned medical expert in sports safety.