Concussions, type it into Google© and you will end up with 14,500,000 results and all those articles can leave you with your head spinning in hundreds of different directions. Many of us hear about concussions daily and probably see something about them on the national news almost every night. If you have a child who plays sports you may be wondering if you should continue to let them play. I’m here to tell you that yes concussions can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we should wrap our children in bubble wrap and sit them on the couch.
So, what exactly is a concussion? A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. It occurs when direct and indirect forces are applied to the skull that result in the brain either rapidly accelerating or decelerating. This causes impairment of the brains functions.
The symptoms of a concussion can vary and all of them do not need to be present for you to be diagnosed with a concussion. Symptoms include a loss of consciousness, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, poor balance, sensitivity to light, ringing in ears and sensitivity to noise, blurred vision, poor concentration, memory problems, drowsiness, fatigue, sadness, depression, irritability and neck pain.
A word of caution here: NO concussion is the same. If someone you know gets a concussion, don’t diagnosis yourself with their symptoms. People will react differently to them and there’s no set timeline saying how long a concussion will last.
One of the biggest things I think people forget is that concussions don’t just happen in sports. They can happen doing almost anything. Yes, anything! Sure, they are more likely in sports; however, you could be walking out to get your mail and get a concussion because you slipped on the ice and hit your head. You could be heading out to do your favorite winter activity like ice fishing and get a concussion because you slipped and bumped your head on the ground. Anyone can get a concussion.
So what do we do about concussions? In the sports medicine world, if we suspect a concussion in an athlete we remove them from the game and do a sideline assessment. This consists of rating symptoms on a scale of 0 to 6, immediate memory questions, concentration exercises, an eye/pupil exam and motor and balance exercises. We also check to ensure that all cranial nerves are functioning during this time. Once an athlete is diagnosed with a concussion they can’t return to play until they are symptom free and they have completed the “Return to Play” protocol. The “Return to Play” protocol lasts four days with each day consisting of the athlete gradually getting a little more into practice. The student athlete must remain symptom free through this protocol and if they don’t, then they go back and start over once symptom free again.
It is hard for anyone to completely prevent a concussion, but there are things we can do. We can make sure football and hockey players have up-to-date helmets and that our athletes/children are learning proper hitting and tackling techniques. We can educate coaches, parents and athletes about concussions, their symptoms and the importance of early diagnosis. If a concussion goes undiagnosed or an athlete returns to play before it is resolved it can have long-term effects, including post-concussion syndrome or second impact syndrome. Individuals with post-concussion syndrome can have concussion symptoms that persist for more than three months. Second impact syndrome is when a patient receives a second concussion before the first one is resolved.
Yes, concussions can be scary. That is why parents and coaches need to be aware of concussions, what the symptoms are, understand they can happen to anyone and know if you suspect a concussion to make sure the individual sees a health care professional as soon as possible. Early diagnosis will help the student athlete get back to the sport they love and help an adult get back to their daily activities sooner.
Bubble wrap not necessary.
About the author:
Sarah Maninga has been the Athletic Trainer at Tri-County Health Care since January 2015. Her services are contracted with the Wadena Deer Creek and Sebeka schools. When she is not busy at the schools, she enjoys spending time with her husband on their small farm near Menahga and doing anything that involves the outdoors.