Commotio Cordis Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 03, 2023
  • Author: Steven M Yabek, MD, FAAP, FACC; Chief Editor: Stuart Berger, MD  more...
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Medical Care

The treatment of commotio cordis is not different from any other cardiopulmonary emergency associated with a nonperfusing cardiac rhythm. For victims of witnessed ventricular fibrillation arrest, as occurs in commotio cordis, early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and rapid defibrillation can significantly increase the chances of survival.

The 2010 AHA Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care recommend early CPR that emphasizes chest compressions immediately after the emergency response system has been activated. The guidelines deemphasize the importance of rescue breaths and pulse checks. Although a chest compression to ventilation ratio of 30:2 and a compression rate of at least 100 per minute are still recommended for adults and children (above age 1 y), bystander "hands-only" CPR (compression only) also significantly improves survival compared with no bystander CPR. Rapid defibrillation significantly increases the chances for survival to hospital discharge. CPR, beginning with chest compressions, should resume immediately after a shock and should continue for 2 minutes before a rhythm or pulse check is conducted.

Performing CPR while the AED or defibrillator is readied for use is strongly recommended. A shorter time interval between the last chest compression and the shock is directly correlated with the success of defibrillation.

The relatively low rate of survival from commotio cordis is probably caused by the delay in instituting effective CPR measures because bystanders frequently fail to appreciate the severity of the event, lack knowledge of commotio cordis, or mistakenly believe that the trauma was insignificant. Many observers have commented that they believed that the wind was knocked out of the person. Experience suggests that survival is associated with resuscitation efforts begun within 1-3 minutes of collapse.

Electrical defibrillation

The hallmark of effective resuscitation is rapid, direct current defibrillation. Time to defibrillation is probably the single most important determinant of survival in cardiac arrest. The likelihood of successful defibrillation decreases rapidly over time, in part because ventricular fibrillation generally evolves to asystole within a few minutes. Experimental data gathered using the commotio cordis swine model suggest that defibrillation within 1 minute of ventricular fibrillation onset results in a 100% survival rate and that defibrillation after 2 minutes results in an 80% survival rate. In animals in which ventricular fibrillation was present for more than 4 minutes, the survival rate was 0% unless CPR was instituted after defibrillation (in which case, the likelihood of survival increased to 65%). In humans, every 1-minute delay in defibrillation beyond the first 3 minutes decreases the likelihood of survival by approximately 10%.

Because emergency paramedical technicians cannot be expected to arrive at the scene of a cardiac arrest in less than 5 minutes, the expanded use of public-access automated external defibrillators (AEDs) may save the lives of countless young people who experience cardiac arrest due to blunt trauma to the precordium. AEDs, even when used by persons with minimal training, can recognize and automatically terminate fatal arrhythmias. AEDs are now approved for use in children as young as 1 year. Ideally, AEDs should have a specific "low-output" setting or a special pediatric pad and cable set which attenuates the charge for use in children aged 1-8 years. Even without these, all AEDs can be used in children of any age older than 1 year.

Precordial thump

Use of the precordial thump during CPR is controversial. No prospective studies have evaluated the efficacy of precordial thump in resuscitation. Recently, limited studies in animals and humans have shown precordial thumps to be ineffective in terminating ventricular fibrillation. [18] The 2010 AHA Guidelines for adult ACLS mention that one immediate precordial thump may be considered after a witnessed cardiac arrest if an AED or defibrillator is not immediately available. Precordial thump is not mentioned at all as an option in pediatric CPR or pediatric advanced life support (PALS).


Medications may be required to treat arrhythmias following basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), electrical defibrillation, or both.



The 36th Bethesda Conference on Eligibility Recommendations for Competitive Athletes with Cardiovascular Abnormalities had a number of recommendations regarding commotio cordis, including the following [19] :

  • Children and adolescents aged 13 years and younger should use age-appropriate safety baseballs.

  • Although commercial chest wall protectors prevent traumatic injury in some instances, the construction of many products is not sufficient to prevent transmission of blows to the heart. Among professional athletes who suffered a commotio cordis event, 1/3 were wearing commercially available chest protectors.

  • All sports venues should have immediate access (within 5 min) to an automated external defibrillator (AED).

  • Survivors of commotio cordis should undergo a thorough cardiac evaluation, including a 12-lead ECG, ambulatory Holter monitoring, and complete echocardiography.

  • Eligibility for returning to competitive sports following a commotio cordis episode is, at present, a decision left to individual clinical judgment. No evidence suggests that survivors of commotio cordis have a greater risk of future arrhythmic events. The role of subclinical long QT syndrome as a potential cause for increased susceptibility, as suggested by animal studies, needs further investigation.

  • Because risk is proportional to the hardness and compactness of the object that strikes the precordium, consideration may be given to the use of specially designed, softer-than-normal safety baseballs in recreational and Little League baseball.

In February, 2022, USA Lacrosse, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) required all goalies in girls’ and boys’ lacrosse to wear chest protectors that meet the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standard to protect against commotio cordis. [14]