Despite its seriousness, concussion is the one injury that athletes often try to hide
By Warren Tabachnick
Now that the hockey season is upon us, the subject of concussions invariably will come up. In the US, more than 3 million concussions occur each year. Last year, 2.5 million high school kids suffered concussions. Most cases occur in persons ranging in age from 3 to 40.
For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know what they are, concussions are caused from a blow to the head, from mild to more serious, either with or without loss of consciousness. A concussion can lead to temporary cognitive symptoms, and sometimes worse.
More specifically, a concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that occurs when an impact to the head or body causes the brain to rapidly move inside the skull. Sometimes it may not show its effects for days or even weeks after the incident.
Know the Signs
According to the experts, concussions vary; no two are the same. The typical symptoms of a mild concussion include:
- Neck pain
- Lack of coordination
- Memory loss
- Ringing in the ears
- Excessive fatigue
Some of the less obvious symptoms that can be attributed to concussion are:
- Changes in mood or behavior; irritability
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Sleep disturbances
- Slow reaction time
What to Do if You Suspect a Concussion
If you believe you or your child might have suffered a concussion, the injured person should be removed from the activity that caused the injury. If any of the symptoms listed above appear—or something just doesn’t feel right—get the affected person to a health provider as soon as possible.
With a head injury, a medical evaluation should be conducted as soon as possible. If the examination shows that it is not a serious injury, the afflicted person will be released and instructed to see their primary care doctor. They will be told to rest and avoid any type of activity that could worsen the symptoms. Most minor concussions will resolve themselves without further treatment.
Experts caution that routine CT scans or MRIs are not recommended with straightforward mild concussions, unless symptoms persist or worsen. The risk of exposing kids’ brains to too much radiation can have more long-term serious consequences than a mild concussion. In fact, most concussions do not reveal physical findings on imaging. MRI or CT scans that are performed in ERs and result in no physical findings do not rule out a concussion.
Average Recovery Time
There’s no specific cure for concussion. Rest and restricting activities—including and especially those that are mentally taxing—allow the brain to recover. This means the affected individual should temporarily reduce sports, video games, TV, or excessive smartphone use. Medications for headache pain or nausea may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms.
Researchers have developed a concussion-symptom scale and noted that patients who engaged in the most mental activity took about 100 days to completely recover, when they no longer experienced headaches, dizziness or blurred vision. They found that with those who gave their brains time to heal, recovery time was cut to an average of 43 days.
What You Can Do to Help Avoid a Concussion
- Always wear a helmet that is approved for the specific sport it is used for, and be sure it is properly fitted. The importance of proper fit cannot be emphasized enough.
- Work on strengthening the neck muscles. A neck that’s stronger can absorb some of the shock of a blow to the head, which decreases the force that radiates to the brain.
- Remember the symptoms and advise the coaching staff if they become evident.
Currently in development is a two-piece helmet which, according to its inventor, creates a glancing blow that sends energy around the skull instead of through the skull and to the brain. Its patented design consists of a specialized mechanical arrangement that slows deceleration and decreases brain trauma/concussion, by creating a buffering effect and slowing the brain in motion. For more information on this innovative helmet, visit their GoFundMe page.
As a hockey parent, it’s important to understand that injuries can and do occur. And when it comes to a head injury, it should be taken seriously.
Enjoy the game and be safe.
Article sources: Mayo Clinic; WebMD; CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality; “We’ll Help You Stay in the Game!” article by Michael Mirabella, MS ATC, appearing in the Fall 2018 Phelps Today (a publication of Phelps Memorial Hospital, Sleepy Hollow, NY).