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Concussions in Sports

November 15, 2010 1 comment

With the recent concussion epidemic sweeping across the NFL, I figured this would be a good time to give my take on this serious topic. Instead of boring you to death with the same stats and opinions on concussions in the NFL, I’ve instead focused my attention on concussions in sports across all platforms. So, here it is. Hope you enjoy.

Have you ever played sports? Chances are the answer to this question is yes. Everyone involved with sports in any way should know about the risk of sports-related concussions. According to McKeever and Schatz (2003), over 300,000 sport-related concussions occur every year, of which more than 62,000 are sustained by high school athletes and college football players (p.5). This alarming statistic puts into perspective just how many people are either directly or indirectly affected by concussions.

So, what is a concussion and what can we do to prevent ourselves from sustaining a concussion? McRory, Meeuwisse, Johnston, Dvorak, Aubry, Molloy, and Cantu (2009) define a concussion as “a complex patho-physiological process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces” (p.756). Basically, a concussion is a mild brain injury that results in a loss of brain function and includes physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. It is important to know that concussions can happen at any time while participating in a contact sport and there is little you can do to prevent a concussion from happening. However, you can take the necessary steps following a concussion to reduce the side-effects and increase your chances of a quick and full recovery. In order to know what to do in the event of a concussion you must be educated on the effects of concussions in general, along with the effects that concussions have on different types of people, and the sheer nature of concussions. When it comes to concussions, education is the best and most efficient way to ensure that the proper safety steps are implemented and in turn the necessary precautions are observed.

As you know, concussions affect everyone, no matter their gender or age, but how concussions affect people varies among these factors. Actually, males, females, and youths are all affected differently by concussions. According to McKeever, Schatz, and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (2003), female athletes are at a higher risk of suffering a concussion than male athletes (p.6). Statistical evidence backs up this claim, but anatomical evidence is still lacking. Mckeever and Schatz (2003) surmise that the disparity between men and women who suffer concussions is likely due to neuro-anatomical and neuro-chemical elements (p.6).

Youths are also diversely affected by concussions. Miller (2010) states that over 4 million children play football for their schools; you can just imagine how many more children are playing all of the other sports (p.8). The large amount of youths, as opposed to professionals, participating in sports greatly increases the chances of a large group of adolescents sustaining a concussion. For example, McKeever and Schatz (2003) state that high school athletes are 1.5 times more susceptible to concussions than college athletes who participate in the same sport (p.5). This increase in the chance to sustain a concussion among high school athletes as opposed to college athletes can be attributed to many underlying factors. According to McKeever and Schatz (2003), this higher concussion rate among adolescents can be credited to younger, more susceptible brains, a greater head-to-body ratio, and thinner cranial bones. These factors provide less protection to the developing cortex, thus increasing the chances of sustaining a concussion (p.5). Understanding the diverging effects of concussions on females, males, and youths is imminent in order to administer the right tests and procedures to help aid in the recovery period. This is just another reason why it is extremely important for players, coaches, and parents to be knowledgeable about concussions.

The short and long-term effects of concussions are important factors in determining the severity of a concussion. There are many nagging symptoms that coincide with concussions. According to Ozretic (2010), some short-term effects associated with concussions consist of headaches, trouble balancing, dizziness, confusion, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, loss of memory, and perseverating (p.140). Iverson, Brooks, Collins, and Lovell (2006) state that these symptoms may last anywhere from 1-10 days, with the majority of athletes recovering from these short-term symptoms within 5-7 days (p.245-246).

Long term effects of concussions are thought to be more serious than short-term effects. Severe concussions along with multiple concussions can cause serious mental and physical problems later on in the victim’s life. Miller (2010) states that repeated blows to the head can cause serious long-term symptoms such as a decrease in motivation and concentration, depression, and memory and learning deficiencies (p.8). According to Majerske, Mihalik, Ren, Collins, Reddy, Lovell, and Wagner (2008), these long-term symptoms linger, nag and ultimately affect neuro-cognitive functions, cell membrane imbalances, memory, attention, and even some motor skills (p.265-266). An article by HealthDay written in US News and World Report Magazine (2009) states that long-term effects such as those mentioned above can still cause adverse effects even over 30 years after suffering a concussion (p.1).

Once sustaining a concussion the necessary steps must be taken to ensure a full recovery. These steps are taken during the time period immediately following a concussion and include important motor skill and brain functioning tests, along with evaluations such as the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool or SCAT2, the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test or ImPACT, and neuro-psychological (NP) testing. McRory et al. (2009) state that those athletes who suffer a concussion should be subject to an immense amount of testing, one of which is the SCAT2 assessment. The SCAT2 evaluates and interprets post-concussion test scores and provides doctors with a solid foundation in understanding the severity of the athlete’s concussion (p.756).

The ImPACT test is a Windows-based computerized concussion evaluating system that is straightforward and easy to administer. Team coaches, athletic trainers, and physicians can govern the ImPACT test with minimal training. ImPACT has many features which include: measuring symptoms, determining reaction time, and provides the player’s mental processing speed through neuro-psychological testing. According to McRory et al. (2009), NP or neuro-psychological tests are usually administered in accordance with or in response to a fMRI or functional MRI. neuropsychological tests can be performed using many different methods such as visual tests, verbal tests, and motor skill tests. The test is scored using a general scale or chart and determines the patient’s raw score by matching it up with the already pre-established scores on the chart. Depending on the outcomes of the other, previously administered tests, the neuro-psychological test is either performed while the patient still has symptoms from the concussion or after he/she is symptom free (p.756-758). The ImPACT along with the SCAT2 and other tests and tools can provide information that can greatly increase the chances of a full recovery. However, these tests and tools become futile if the person administering them is not sufficiently educated on how to deal with a concussion.

How can I become more knowledgeable regarding concussions? Well, as I stated before, concussions can happen at any time and there is little anyone can do to prevent a concussion. The same applies to the ability to treat or reduce the effects of a concussion. Because the abilities to prevent and treat a concussion are minimal, the education of players, coaches, parents, referees, and medical personnel are essential in furthering the development of preventing and treating concussions and providing a time-table for a safe return to the playing field. According to McRory et al. (2009), those involved in sports should be educated on the detection, assessment, and principles of concussions. Some methods of educating include the internet, educational videos, and conventions. In addition to education, ethical values and fair play are also factors in ensuring that the safety of the athletes is the main priority (p.760).

An underlying reason for an increase in concussions can be attributed to “protective” equipment. Pieces of equipment like mouth guards, chin straps, and helmets provide a false sense of security for players. While these pieces of equipment provide protection to the structural parts of the head, they do not provide protection to the actual brain and prevent the trauma it can endure. Many athletes feel invincible and thus feel free to propel their bodies through the air without any regard for their safety or the safety of others. This artificial form of invincibility contributes to the major problem of the fine line between aggression versus violence in sports. This is where instilling respect for yourself and others on the playing field along with continued education concerning safety offers an enormous amount of importance.

With the majority of our society involved in sports in some way, I feel that education on the safety of our athletes is extremely important. According to McKeever and Schatz (2003), “sports-related injuries represent approximately 20% of the estimated 1.54 million head injuries that occur yearly in the United States, and 9% of all sports injuries are thought to be concussions” (p.4). This statistic along with many others provides cause for concern for the safety of all athletes and especially those athletes who are susceptible to or have already sustained a concussion. With over 300,000 sports-related concussions occurring every year, it is more important than ever to be educated about concussions.

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