The air is already starting to feel a little crisper and the sun is setting even earlier these days and with the change of weather also comes fall sports.
While football and soccer seem to be favorite sports around Lake Stevens, athletes in all sports are susceptible to concussions.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, more than 1.6 million Americans suffer a sports-related concussion every year, and there is an escalating number among high school and college athletes.
Federal statistics suggest that more than 150,000 teenage athletes sustained concussions on the playing field from 2001 to 2005.
Since that figure accounts for only those who were taken to emergency rooms, experts agree that the true number is likely much higher.
So, what exactly is a concussion?
“In general, a concussion is caused by the shearing forces on the brain which among other things, causes an imbalance in electrolytes to the point where the brain is required to use most of its energy to try to reestablish the electrolyte balance,” explained Dr. Jared Anderson, Sports Medicine Doctor for The Everett Clinic. “With most of the energy going towards healing, mental or physical exercise will often exacerbate symptoms for the first few days following a concussion.”
Media coverage of concussions in sports has become widespread as of late, especially because of the higher number of cases with both current and past NFL players, however, amateur athletes are in no way immune.
“Concussions are a growing concern with athletes in all levels of sports. Professional athletes are at risk, as are school-age athletes and weekend warriors,” according to Sports Reaction Center in Bellevue.
Because of this concern, parents and coaches need to be diligent in watching for symptoms.
What should they look for in their athletes when diagnosing whether they may have a concussion or not?
“Main initial symptoms include any combination of the following: head ache—most common, confusion, disorientation, blank stares (not necessary), amnesia/dizziness (more prognostic of concussions that take longer to resolve), problems with balance, loss of consciousness,” Dr. Anderson said. “On the sideline, noticing any of these should be a trigger that there may be evidence of a concussion, and may need more evaluation. Watching for evidence that the athlete is not focusing on the play, or not able to pay attention, or eyes drifting off when they should be paying attention, can be beneficial to noticing a concussion, as many players will try to hide things in order to get back into the game.”
In treating concussions at all levels, minor to extreme, a doctor should be contacted and the athlete should be seen by a physician. Even minor concussions can be cause for concern.
“Any concussion that is not treated appropriately can develop into concussions with lasting symptoms. If they are not allowed to heal appropriately, the symptoms can ‘stack’ and make it easier for future concussions to occur at lower and lower levels of trauma,” Anderson said. “One of the symptoms of concussions is not being able to respond appropriately, and a feeling of being slowed down both mentally and physically, and this puts the athlete at increased risk because they’re not performing at the normal standards, and are unable to react to a play that is happening. They are more likely to have other injuries as a result.”
While most of these symptoms resolve in about 7-10 days, some of them can persist for months, or even longer.
In extreme concussions there can occasionally be posttraumatic seizures, however, these may be a marker of more serious pathology which would require further evaluation, Anderson explained.
Some of the symptoms of side effects that may occur could include (by category): 1)Affective: irritability, depression, anxiety, even personality changes; 2) Sleep: drowsiness and increased sleep, or difficulties falling asleep; 3) Cognitive: Amnesia, confusion, difficulty concentrating (which can affect even school work and study), and a feeling of being slowed down or in a fog and: 4) Somatic: Dizziness, headache, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, blurred vision, etc.
Age doesn’t matter when it comes to concussions. While the older you are may make a difference on the size of the person that may hit you or how hard you may fall, concussions need to be treated no matter how old the athlete is.
“We are becoming much more conservative with the treatment of adolescent brains that have sustained a concussion, because of the potential for long-term development of symptoms. An adolescent brain is still developing, and the shearing forces involved with a concussion can disrupt this,” Anderson said. “At any stage of an athlete’s career there is always the risk that the concussion can have long-lasting brain damage, and so we’re much more conservative in treating an adolescent with a concussion, as they have a longer career in front of them, and possibly more chance for concussions.”
Coaches need to trust their instincts and their training before allowing a player to return to the game after they have suffered from a brain trauma of any kind.
”It is never appropriate for an adolescent athlete to return to play on the same day as the injury, and it is also dangerous for adults—even professional athletes,” Sports Reaction Center founder Neil Chasan said. “Concussions are serious injuries that require close attention from medical professionals who understand how to effectively treat these injuries.”
The most important thing to remember is that while sports like hockey, soccer and football may be the most hazardous, any athlete is at risk for concussion.
“Women’s hockey and soccer, and men’s football, hockey and soccer are the main sports, although they can be seen in any sport where contact or whiplash occurs,” Anderson said.
Ensuring the health and safety of the athlete should be the top priority.
When athletes have been diagnosed with a concussion, or if they suspect a concussion, Chasan says that it’s important to have testing done to determine when it’s safe for them to return to play in their sport.
“There is a significant risk of getting another concussion if an athlete returns to action before the first concussion is resolved,” Chasan said. “This can lead to numerous problems in the short term and the long term, but it can be avoided with appropriate testing. Caution and safety are important, especially when dealing with brain injuries.”