The rough and tumble of sports is what makes it enjoyable to engage in and fascinating to watch for many people.  However, new information about concussions received during play and how it can affect mental function later in life has made the issue of preventing head injuries more important than ever.

A real effort to spread the word about head injuries and the risk for concussion has led to a movement of sports concussion awareness that will help to protect athletes from serious damage now and more devastating effects later in life.

What is a concussion?
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a jolt to the head or body that leads to a back-and-forth movement of the brain within the skull cavity. The bouncing or twisting action can cause damage to tissue and changes in brain chemistry. Concussions are often referred to as a “mild” brain injury, but this designation does not mean that there are no serious consequences to the injury.

What are the short and long-term effects?
Concussions can have both short and long-term effects.

  • Over the short-term, an individual with a head injury can experience headache, dizziness and mood changes.
  • Over the long-term, repeated concussions can cause memory problems, difficulty concentrating, depression and problems with impulse control.
  • Neurological problems can affect movement, and dementia can occur.
  • Young brains can be particularly susceptible to injury, making prevention of concussions of primary importance to athletes in their school years.

Signs of a possible concussion
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children and adolescents be carefully monitored after any hard impact to the head for signs of concussion. These symptoms an individual may display include:

  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
  • One eye pupil larger than the other
  • Headache that worsens or won’t go away
  • Slurred speech, weakness or problems with coordination
  • Changes in behavior, such as confusion, agitation or restlessness
  • Loss of consciousness, no matter how brief
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors, seizures or convulsions

Looking for the signs of concussion
Often, children do not know they have been hit hard enough to cause a concussion injury to the head. Adults can help determine the severity of an impact by looking for a number of signs that indicate the child needs medical attention. The signs of possible concussion include:

  • The child appears stunned or dazed.
  • The child does not recall events leading up to the injury.
  • The child loses consciousness, even briefly.
  • The child speaks slowly.
  • The child seems confused, forgetful or unsure of what’s going on.
  • The child moves clumsily.
  • The child demonstrates changes in mood or personality.

Preventing concussions
Athletes should always be encouraged to do their best in a safe sports culture and environment.

  • Protective equipment should be available and in good working order.
  • Rules against excessive violence within the activity should be rigorously enforced to prevent unnecessary injuries.
  • Head protection should be worn at all times during play.
  • Any injury should be carefully recorded and medical treatment sought immediately to prevent further damage.
  • Head injuries should receive medical evaluation as soon as possible, even if the player says he is fine and does not require treatment.
  • Coaches should receive instructions from the physician about an athlete’s return to play after an injury.
  • Athletes should be cleared by their physicians before beginning a sport and after any type of injury.

Concussions are serious injuries that require medical care and monitoring for after effects. Hopefully, Sports Concussion Awareness will help to minimize the damage from these injuries, so young people can continue to safely engage in the physical activities they enjoy so much.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Kim Tacconi, PA-C