Concussions and contact sports have been inexorably linked in everything we read lately. As a result, it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from theory.
For centuries, concussions weren’t thought of as injuries. You got “your bell rung” or you came up dizzy after hitting the ground, and treatment consisted of sitting up slowly, shaking it off and getting back out there.
Unlike a knee, shoulder or elbow, there’s no outward sign of the injury. But make no mistake: Concussions are brain injuries and need to be treated as such.
The human brain is a soft, jelly-like organ protected by the bones of the skull. It also is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid that acts like an additional shock absorber and increases the buoyancy of the brain.
Despite these protective measures, the brain can be injured, and when that happens, it’s called traumatic brain injury (TBI). The great majority of sports-related concussions are categorized as mild traumatic brain injuries.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of TBI caused by a blow or jolt to the head that causes the brain to move around rapidly inside the skull. You don’t necessarily need to be hit on the head to get a concussion. Any blow to the body that causes the head to change direction quickly also can cause a concussion.
No one really knows what happens inside the brain during a concussion. It’s thought that the rapid movement stretches the brain cells, altering their chemical and electrical activity causing them to not work properly.
Sometimes, there can be evidence of a head injury such as a bruise or a bump, but often there are no external injuries to be seen. It was once thought that in order to have a concussion, you needed to be knocked out. That’s not true. More than 90 percent of young athletes who have concussions never lose consciousness.
There are many ways for a child to get a concussion, including falls, playground injuries and bike accidents.
And, yes, contact sports.
Concussions can happen while participating not just in football but also basketball, hockey, soccer, volleyball, boxing, skiing, snowboarding, water polo, horseback riding or in hundreds of other recreational activities.
What should parents and coaches know?
It can be difficult to know if an athlete has a concussion. Symptoms can be vague and range from mild to severe.
Symptoms associated with concussions can be divided into four broad groups:
Issues with thinking or remembering
Physical manifestations, such as headache
Most young athletes with a concussion recover quickly and completely, usually within a couple of weeks. Occasionally, symptoms can last for hours, days, weeks or sometimes months, especially after repeated concussions. It is important to recognize signs and symptoms of a potential concussion and get the individual to a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. This will help prevent long term problems and allow for the safest way to return the athlete to school and to play.
If you suspect a concussion, take charge. It’s always better to err on the safe side. Don’t let that player go back in the game or practice until cleared by a healthcare professional.