Heads Up: Understanding Concussions
Spring will be upon us before we know it, the days already seem a bit longer and these little chunks of warmth feel so good.
Spring also means it’s time for the spring sports – and all that comes with them, which can include concussions.
While that injury that has the highest reported incidence in high-school football, this serious injury is a reality for almost all high-school-aged athletes. Youth will face them, and they have many effects on them physically as well as in behavior.
The Many Impacts of Head Injuries
Concussions and their complications continue to be a hot news topic, in part because of the increasing concern about them. Especially concerning for parents and grandparents are some of the long-term effects of these injuries. Unfortunately, we still have a lot to learn about how and why some of those complications occur.
There are many great websites that provide information and resources regarding concussions for athletes, parents, teachers and coaches. This is because a concussion does not just impact the athlete from a sports participation standpoint. After a concussion, an athlete’s schoolwork is also commonly affected and they may have struggles in the classroom they did not have previously.
As most people know, concussions are caused by trauma to the head, usually occurring as part of a collision during sporting activities. One myth regarding concussions is that you have to have a loss of consciousness, or “get knocked out” for the injury to be classified as a concussion.
This is not true; in fact, most concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness.
We also used to think that an athlete could return one week after a concussion, or maybe after two weeks. While this is partly true because we know the average length of recovery for high-school athletes is 10 to 14 days, the reality is that every athlete and every concussion is different. The symptoms of the concussion typically do resolve over time, but that length of time is unique to each athlete and each injury.
The most important part of concussion management involves identifying the athlete who has suffered a concussion, and then making sure they are fully recovered before they are cleared to return to their sport.
Identification of a concussion can be challenging because the symptoms do not always start immediately after the injury – they may not be evident for several minutes or up to several hours after they occur.
Because the potential for this injury is not always brought to medical attention right away, the outward signs of concussion can be subtle and easily missed.
To a large extent, we rely on the athlete to disclose how they feel. Athletes occasionally will not report symptoms because they want to continue playing their sport. They know they will be pulled from the game if they are even suspected of having a concussion. This can make the risks greater and the challenges of properly identifying the injury greater.
Not Worth the Risk
The biggest risk to the athlete is a rare but tragic event called second-impact syndrome.
When an athlete with a concussion receives a second concussion before they have recovered from the first one, second-impact syndrome occurs, and the results can be catastrophic. In some cases, athletes have died following that second concussion.
That’s why our decision-making must reflect the current medical consensus regarding concussions – that is, if there is any concern for concussion, the athlete should sit out sports until a health professional has medically cleared the athlete.
New evidence also suggests that the best chance for a speedy recovery involves immediate removal from further sports participation. Not only does this eliminate the risk of a second-impact syndrome, but athletes who continue to play despite the presence of symptoms have significantly longer recovery times compared to those who come out right away.