Athletes Should Learn about Causes, Symptoms of Concussions
On average, 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute. A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, MTBI, which means that your brain shakes and hits your skull causing inflammation. This can be caused by a bump or blow to the head/neck by a person or object.
According to Dr. Richard Owen Davis of the Geisinger Medical Center, concussions occur most in women’s soccer, but the reason why is unknown. Basketball has one of the lowest concussion rates for sports. He explained that the severity of each injury and its symptoms depends not only on how hard a player is hit, but the place where the hit occurs because some parts of the head are less dense than others.
If you play sports, it is important to be able to recognize signs of a concussion. Symptoms of a concussion include: headaches, fatigue, nausea, confusion or memory loss, light and sound sensitivity, sleep disturbances, mood changes and psychological disturbances. Some of these, if not all of these usually begin immediately after the injury or within 24 hours after the initial injury. This happens because the brain begins to swell and compress the components within the skull.
King’s College athlete Alexis Swagler, a sophomore, suffered a concussion in the beginning of this semester. Swagler plays volleyball for King’s and experienced her injury in September during practice.
Swagler said, “[The ball] hit me in the face and a few plays later I got hit again. I didn’t tell anyone about my symptoms until the next day after an away match. I had a very bad headache, blurry vision, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, some confusion and memory loss but not severe.”
The recovery time for concussions varies based on how severe the injury is. In Swagler’s case, symptoms lasted a week and a half. Most symptoms are gone after three weeks, but an athlete should not be rushed to return to play because the chances of making the concussion worse are a lot higher, according to Dr. Davis.
Most colleges and high schools have a strict return-to-play policy, which includes a series of tests, followed by a five-day protocol.
Before the athlete’s season starts, each athlete is required to take a baseline test online to determine his or her health physically and psychologically.
Once an athlete experiences an injury, the same test must be given when the athlete is symptom-free for 24 hours, to determine if there are any differences. If there are, the athlete has to take the same test every day until the results return to normal. This test took Swagler four times to pass.
Once this step is completed, the athlete can start the five-day protocol; day one: cardio; day two: non-contact drills; day three: light contact drills, no scrimmaging; day four: full contact, no scrimmage; day five: scrimmage/play.
When asked how effective headgear is for athletes, Dr. Davis responded in an unbiased manner. He said that there is no research to prove the effectiveness, therefore he can’t recommend them, but he also said headgear couldn’t hurt. If the athlete feels more comfortable playing with headgear, Dr. Davis said she should.
He also stated that there is not a certain number of concussions an athlete has to suffer before giving up the sport; it all depends on how severe the injuries were and how the athlete feels.
I personally suffered from a minor concussion this semester during a field hockey game. I was preparing to take a shot on the cage when a defender came from behind and lowered her shoulder into my head.
When I got hit, I immediately got a headache, which lasted about three weeks nonstop. Also following the injury, I became sensitive to light and sound, fatigued, confused, and had difficulty concentrating. It was hard for me to keep up on schoolwork because of the symptoms, but my professors were very understanding.
I had to rest constantly in order to make the symptoms subside, and before I could play again, I made an appointment to see Dr. Davis to get his medical opinion on the situation.
Once my symptoms went away, which took three weeks, and I went through all of the steps of the return-to-play protocol, I was able to play again. However, I can only play if I wear a protective headband because I still get frequent headaches and don’t want to risk getting another injury.