What is commotio cordis? NOCSAE expert discusses heart condition
USA Today High School Sports
May 19, 2023
The collision and hospitalization of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin in January 2023 brought to the forefront a risk many average football fans were previously unaware of: commotio cordis. As player safety continues being discussed around the league, this condition will have a heightened focus.
While many are learning of the condition now, records have been found of similar incidents dating back to the 1700s. However, little was known about commotio cordis as recently as 30 years ago until the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) began to study this cardiac arrest event in 1995. With the help of this organization, which created a registry to track incidents and developed safety standards for baseball and lacrosse, there is more awareness.
What is commotio cordis and what should you do if you are a coach or spectator when it occurs? Mike Oliver, the NOCSAE executive director and legal counsel, participated in an interview with USA TODAY High School Sports to discuss NOCSAE’s work and how commotio cordis affects athletes.
What is commotio cordis?
Commotio cordis occurs when a hit to the chest disrupts the heart’s rhythm. A very rare condition that requires impact at a specific time of the heartbeat and at a near-perpendicular angle, it can lead to sudden cardiac death in athletes.
“It’s the consequence of getting hit over the heart in the right spot at the right point in the cardiac cycle,” Oliver said.
Commotio cordis does not stop the heart, but it changes the rhythm of the heartbeat in a way that makes chambers of the heart work individually and prevents the heart from moving blood, Oliver said.