In recent years, concussions have made headlines with reports about the consequences of returning to play too soon, as well as research findings on the long-term effects of the injury. The National Football League and its players’ union as well as the NCAA have decided to review their concussion policy. The NFL’s investigation led to a change in a key element of it. Concussions occur in a wide range of sports and affect athletes at every level, from little leaguers to the pros. Recognizing concussions and providing proper treatment is especially important for younger athletes because it typically takes them longer than adults to fully recover.
“Concussions are traumatic brain injuries,” said Dr. Cameron Michael, a neurologist with West Tennessee Medical Group. “A concussion can occur when a force causes the brain to rapidly move back and forth inside the skull.”
Concussions occur in all sports with the highest incidence in football, hockey, rugby, soccer and basketball. The odds of reporting a concussion increased significantly with the number of sports teams on which students played. It is estimated that as many as 3.8 million concussions occur in the USA per year during competitive sports and recreational activities, however, as many as 50% of the concussions may go unreported.
When parents or other adults are responsible for sideline assessment, the evaluation is likely to be less formal. Because of the potential long-term consequences of a concussion, athletes, coaches, trainers and parents must know as much as possible about how to recognize one. In addition, coaches, parents, and school administrators must be aware that concussion causes a wide range of symptoms and can interfere not only with sports participation but with school and social relationships.
Symptoms are not always obvious. Although it is commonly assumed that concussions cause loss of consciousness, many people with concussions have not been knocked out. “A concussion can cause a variety of symptoms including balance problems, dizziness, confusion, difficulty speaking and communicating, drowsiness, headache, nausea and vomiting,” said LeAnn Childress of SportsPlus Rehab Centers. “Cognitive issues such as memory loss are also a sign. These may appear right away or may be delayed for several days after the injury.”
While medical professionals are a part of most professional and college team sports, that is not the case for most other athletes. West Tennessee Healthcare has a team of specialists to help be it on the sidelines or in the healthcare setting. SportsPlus Rehab team members work on the sidelines of twelve area high schools and three colleges. These professionals use validated and reliable tests to measure baselines of symptoms on the field to accurately assess the concussion. This is retested over the next few hours to validate the symptoms and need for additional medical care. For those suspected to have a concussion, WTH has primary care and emergency medicine physicians as well as West Tennessee Medical Group neurologists who can help diagnose and treat a concussion in your athlete or non-athlete.
“Your doctor will most likely perform a neurological examination, which tests for balance, coordination, vision, hearing, and reflexes. During the evaluation, they may ask questions about the injury and how it occurred as well as if you have had any previous concussions,” said Dr. Michael. “They may ask how severe the force was and whether you lost consciousness or had memory loss after the blow.”
The key to healing from a concussion is not just physical rest but mental rest as well. Concussion symptoms are typically short-lived. Most people recover within seven to ten days.
“To get back into the game, many athletes will downplay their symptoms. It’s better to miss one game than the whole season,” said Dr. Michael. “Unfortunately, once an athlete has sustained a concussion, they are at greater risk for additional concussions. If you suffer a repeat concussion before your first concussion has healed, it may take longer for your symptoms to resolve and you may have long-term problems, such as learning difficulties or chronic headaches.”
The care doesn’t stop on the sidelines or in the outpatient setting. The West Tennessee Healthcare family of specialists include physical therapist, primary care and emergency medicine physicians as well as neurologists who can help identify and treat concussions, whether they happen on the playing field or not.
If you think your child has had a concussion, seek medical attention right away. A healthcare professional will be able to diagnose a concussion and decide when it is safe to return to sports. To find a provider, click here.