Concussions have become a part of the national conversation. Parents are rightfully concerned about keeping their children safe while they play sports. Reducing concussion risk starts with coaches who put safety first as well as parents willing to cry foul when play becomes overly aggressive.
Sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of TBI-Traumatic Brain Injury-among people aged 15 to 24. An estimated 300,000 sport-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. Football, hockey and soccer claim the top spots as the most concussion-prone activities.
“Concussions are referred to as a mild form of a traumatic brain injury but they can be quite serious,” says Nicholas Branch, PT, DPT, NCS. “Though most people recover, concussions are serious. Long-term effects on balance, attention, learning and memory are a possibility, especially if left untreated.
THE RESULT OF IMPACT
It is a common misconception that direct head impact is required for concussions to occur. Concussions can result from any fall or jolt to the body which impacts the head, including whiplash injuries from vehicle collisions, a hard hit or a fall. Anything that forces the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull can create a concussion, which can lead to temporary or permanent brain damage.
Researchers at the New York University Concussion Center recently reviewed studies that involved athletes who sustained a concussion during sports and found that a vision test was highly useful in detecting whether a concussion had occurred. When combines with balance and cognition, the test was able to detect 100 percent of concussions that occurred among athletes.
While on the spot assessment is crucial, it can also take days or weeks after an injury for symptoms to start. There might be headache, neck pain, nausea, ringing in the ears, dizziness or tiredness. More serious concussion symptoms include:
- Trouble walking or sleeping
- Weakness, numbness or decrease coordination
- Repeated vomiting
- Slurred Speech
If concussion is suspected, seek medical attention immediately, especially if a person loses consciousness-no matter how briefly. Most people recover fully after a concussion, but it can take some time. Rest ifs very important as it helps the brain to heal, however strict bed rest is no longer recommended; therefore guidance from a medical/health professional specializing in concussion is critical in optimal recovery.
“Physical therapy can help people regain their balance, coordination, as well as reduce headaches or dizziness that may be the result of concussion,” says Dr. Branch.
PREVENTION STRATEGIES TO MINIMIZE CONCUSSION RISK
Studies have found that the risk for a second injury is greatest in the 10 days following an initial concussion. If you suspect that someone has a concussion, make sure they stop the activity they are doing. Their brain dysfunction might cloud thinking, slow reaction times, and affect their balance so they become more likely to have another injury.
Helmets should be worn in specific sports as appropriate and for such leisure activities as bicycling, skateboarding or riding a horse. Homes can also be made safer for everyone by removing tripping hazards such as throw rugs and clutter in walkways, and installing handrails on both sides of the stairs.
For more tips on safe play for specific sports, go to the Centers of Disease Control-