The scene from so many sports movies is familiar. Hollywood has shown that if the downed athlete can count the fingers, he’s fine to keep playing and save the game.
In real life, concussions are a bit more complicated and don’t just come from a hard tackle. Bicycle accidents, falls from playground equipment, and other impacts can cause concussions.
Specifically relating to sports injuries, “we’re talking about a trauma-induced change of mental status, either by a direct or an indirect blow to an athlete,” explains Peter Gray, an Athletic Trainer at the UK Healthcare Turfland Clinic and Head Athletic Trainer at Henry Clay High School. “It can result in confusion and impaired memory and reduce the speed of processing. There isn’t always a loss of consciousness, but that is a definitely a red flag for a concussion.”
A concussion doesn’t always present itself right away. It may appear immediately or show up over time. Trauma can pass quickly or take months to heal. Recovery all depends on how shaken up the brain is from the impact. Contact sports have a higher risk of concussion. Football, hockey, lacrosse and soccer are likely culprits.
Major warning signs deal with mental status. Depression, anxiety, sadness, fogginess and difficulty with recall are all symptoms of concussion. Physical signals include headache, fatigue, balance problems, ringing in the ears and vision issues.
Everyone should watch the injured player for concussion symptoms. “Other players should not be quiet when they know their friend – even though he or she is a crucial part of the team – isn’t playing right,” recommends Gray. If your buddy is forgetting plays, alert the coach.
Diagnosis: Is It a Concussion?
The first step in concussion protocol is removing the athlete from play. A basic neurological assessment can be done on the sidelines after following emergency procedures. Cranial bleeding and skull fractures require a trip to the emergency room.
“The initial step is full and total physical and cognitive rest,” advises Gray. This may take days, weeks or months. The brain needs to recover. An office visit to an orthopedist who specializes in concussions will start the process of resuming activity. This specialist evaluates and tracks symptoms. Monitoring the athlete as symptoms develop will indicate if any additional treatments are needed before safely returning to play.
Safety & Prevention
No piece of equipment will prevent concussion. Helmets can only reduce severity.
The best defense for safety is with adults guiding game play. Referees can stop unnecessary hits or keep play from getting out of hand. Coaches can emphasize safer practices that reduce impact of the head. “The number one way to manage a concussion is recognizing it right away and not allowing kids to play through it,” explains Gray. “Some of the more serious complications arise when a secondary blow to a head occurs after sustaining an initial impact.”
Athletic Trainer at the UK Healthcare Turfland Clinic & Head Athletic Trainer at Henry Clay High School