If you enjoy getting ‘broiled’ regularly via contact sports such as hockey, soccer, rugby, martial arts, riding or cycling, you could be at risk of suffering a concussion. The Centre for Public Health notes that three per cent of all sporting injuries attended to by emergency staff, involve an injury to the head. Concussion occurs when an impact to the head affects the part of the brain responsible for consciousness. In case you or another athlete suffers a concussion, it is important to seek medical help immediately, and to take preventive measures.
What Happens During a Concussion
A concussion is one of eight different types of traumatic brain injuries. It is usually caused by a blow to the head, or by hitting the head against a stationary object. Loss of consciousness is caused by the rotational movements of the brain inside the part of the cranium called the calvaria. As the brain slides back and forth against the inner wall of your skull, brain function can be affected, albeit for a short period of time. A concussion can cause bleeding in the brain. Symptoms of the latter include confusion and drowsiness, which can occur immediately upon impact, or subsequently. Since bleeding can cause death, it is vital to see your doctor immediately. Normally, a patient who has had a concussion requires monitoring in the hours after the injury. If symptoms worsen, hospitalization may be required.
The Complications of Concussion
Potential complications of concussion include post-traumatic vertigo (people can feel dizzy or like the room is spinning for days, weeks or even months after the injury; post-traumatic headaches (these also can continue months after the event); second impact syndrome (those suffering a second concussion before the first has healed may suffer rapid and sometimes fatal brain swelling); epilepsy (those with have had a concussion are twice as likely to develop epilepsy within the period of five years post-concussion); and other effects of multiple brain injuries. Since subsequent impacts have the potential to cause death, it is vital that athletes avoid all sports while they continue to have signs of concussion. Some people experience post-concussion syndrome – these include emotional and cognitive symptoms which can last from a few weeks to more than a year. These include headaches, struggles with memory, concentration, mood swings, anxiety, etc.
What are Common Signs and Symptoms of Concussion?
Common signs include drowsiness, reduced motion, problems with balance and coordination, a headache, vacant expression, increased sensitivity to light, double vision, and nausea. A person can also suffer amnesia and be unable to answer questions about how they sustained their injury.
If you or another athlete have a concussion, seek medical help and in the meantime, treat the concussion by taking paracetamol and using an ice pack to battle any swelling. Avoid anti-inflammatories (including ibuprofen) and aspirin, since they can increase the likelihood of bleeding. According to the NICE, anyone who has had a concussion should rest, avoid unnecessary stress, and (at least two days after the injury) stay close to someone who can help. Always keep a phone at hand. Contact sports should be avoided for at least three weeks and all symptoms should be absent before returning to sport. If symptoms persist after 10 days, see your doctor again.
At the Doctors
During a medical visit, you will be asked a series of questions regarding your symptoms and your doctor may decide to conduct a neurological examination – this will test areas such as hearing, coordination, balance, vision, etc. Your doctor may also carry out cognitive test to check whether your memory, concentration etc., has been affected. In patients with severe symptoms (such as seizures, repeated vomiting etc.), a CT scan may be required. An MRI may also be useful, to view any bleeding in the brain.
Returning to Sport
Doctors recommend that any return to sport be undertaken very gradually. Once your doctor deems it suitable for you to commence activity, begin with a light workout involving no more than a walk or a swim. Start introducing simple drills (avoiding head contact altogether) and in time, proceed to more complex drills. Once your doctor gives you the all-clear, resume normal activities and make sure to prevent any future concussion by wearing quality protective headgear which is the right size. Remember that a helmet won’t necessarily stop another concussion from happening, so make sure to play in the most responsible, defensive way possible.