Buckle your chin straps. America’s favorite sports pastime is underway, and at its highest level more than 205 million fans are expected to tune in to watch the world’s hardest-hitting athletes square off week in and week out.
And once again, despite who overachieves or under-delivers, you can be assured that player concussions will dominate headlines at key points throughout the 2014 season. After all, in the NFL during the 2013 season, teams reported a total 152 concussions on their injury reports.
While that number may seem staggering, it’s a drop in the bucket when compared with the 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions that occur annually in the U.S. as a result of injury from a sport, including 9 percent of all high school sports injuries.
Despite such prevalence in high school sports, and regardless of efforts in recent years to educate players at all levels about how vitally important it is to identify and treat concussions immediately, a recent U.S. study suggests a high percentage of student athletes may still value brawn over brains.
“Despite their knowledge (of concussion and concussion symptoms), many athletes in our sample reported that they would not tell their coach about symptoms and would continue to play,” said co-author Brit Anderson, MD, from the research team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that performed the study.
More than anything, such a study only reinforces the role that parents, coaches and athletic trainers/physical therapists have in monitoring safety and overriding the youthful exuberance of student-athletes who are suffering from the symptoms of concussions.
What’s a Concussion?
A concussion is nothing less than a brain injury, plain and simple, mostly caused by a sudden a blow to the head or body. Such an injury can occur in any sport or activity, and it will present itself differently from athlete to athlete.
Concussions can range from mild to severe, and a loss of consciousness is not necessary for a concussion to have taken place.
For the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s study, Anderson and his research team surveyed 120 high school football players in the Cincinnati area, 25 percent of whom had experienced a concussion. More than 50 percent of those surveyed still admitted that they would keep playing through the symptoms of a concussion.
“A small percentage even responded that athletes have a responsibility to play in important games with a concussion,” Anderson added. “In other words, athletes who had more knowledge about concussions were not more likely to report symptoms.”
That’s the other thing about concussions: it can change the way one’s brain normally works. In other words, a survey is one thing; expecting a young athlete to honestly and accurately assess his or her own condition following an injury can be dangerous.
That’s why as a parent, coach or observer, it’s paramount you remain aware of the signs of a potential concussion. Observable indicators, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include moments when the student-athlete:
- Appears dazed, stunned and/or confused about assignments or position;
- Forgets an instruction or is unsure of game, score or opponent;
- Moves clumsily, answers questions slowly or loses consciousness (even briefly);
- Shows mood, behavior or personality changes; or
- Can’t recall events prior to or after the hit or fall.
Symptoms reported by the athlete, according to the CDC, may include:
- A headache, pressure to the head, nausea or vomiting;
- Balance problems, double or blurry vision, and/or a sensitivity to light or noise;
- Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy;
- Concentration, memory problems or confusion; or
- Just not “feeling right” or “feeling down.”
Should any of these signs occur, the response is simple: remove the athlete from play, practice or competition and seek professional medical attention immediately. In addition, keep the athlete from practice and competition until a health care professional gives the OK to return. Brains need time to heal, otherwise you’re risking repeat concussions, brain swelling and permanent damage.
Oh, and never try to judge the severity of a concussion for yourself. Leave that to a professional.
Though 47 percent of all sports concussions occur during high school football (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics), the injury remains common in a number of high-speed contact boys’ and girls’ sports.
Girls, for instance, will find the greatest risk for concussion through organized soccer. Activities like lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, basketball and even cheerleading also provide a level of risk coaches, parents and trainers should remain aware of.
The bottom line remains: if you feel a student-athlete – perhaps your own child—has suffered a concussion, have him or her see a physician immediately. Not only will your physician be able to evaluate the athlete’s condition accurately and thoroughly, but a new position paper released this summer by the American Academy of Neurology states that doctors have an ethical obligation to educate and protect athletes from sports concussions, from injury to “all clear.”
“With nearly 4 million sports-related concussions in the U.S. each year, it is imperative doctors are educated and protect these athletes who may have sustained a concussion,” said Matthew P. Kirschen, PhD, a neurologist with the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Concussions can have devastating effects such as short-term impairments in athletes’ cognitive and athletic performance.”