Sports, Concussions, and the Dangers of Traumatic Brain Injury
A concussion is a brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head, or body, that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Often, people forget that concussions are actually traumatic brain injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries (or TBIs) can range from mild to severe and can disturb normal brain function. Sport and recreational activities are the leading cause of TBI for children and adolescents. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 concussions are sustained during sports-related activities annually in the United States. And, more than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high school contact sports alone. The risk of concussion is highest in the 15 – 19-year-old age group; in addition, males are at a higher risk than females.
In a series of articles on TBI, “The Journal of the American Medical Association” presented evidence linking sports-related concussions with lower scores on several tests of mental function. A growing body of data also suggests that those who suffer multiple head injuries in sports may be at a greater risk for neurodegenerative diseases later in life.
Of the 1,000,000 people treated for a TBI in hospital emergency rooms each year, 50,000 dies and 80,000 become permanently disabled and incapacitated. This is actually higher than the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis combined!
The first line of defense in managing concussion and sports-related head injury is prevention. Helmets are an essential form of protection in sports, especially that of water and winter sports. Head injuries account for 29% of all jet-ski injuries and 15% of sledding accidents. TBI’s are the leading cause of death and serious injury among skiers and snowboarders, mostly from collisions with a tree. Many of these head injuries would be prevented if helmets were worn. Student-athletes, teachers, and coaches should be familiar with frequent causes of injury, necessary protective equipment, and a common vocabulary to discuss and report cognitive and behavioral concussion symptoms.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention created the “Heads Up” program that offers a free tool-kit containing fact sheets for coaches, athletes and parents; videos, posters, and educational materials are also available. Symptoms of a concussion may develop immediately following a head trauma or evolve gradually over several minutes to several hours. Early symptoms may include a headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, slurred or incoherent speech, and imbalance or incoordination. A victim may have a vacant stare, disorientation, delayed ability to follow instructions or answer questions and poor concentration or attention. Signs of disorientation include a loss of sense of time or place. For example, signs would be apparent in a dazed athlete walking in the wrong direction on the playing field. Concussions can happen in any sport. Team contact sports such as football and ice hockey have the highest incidence of concussion, followed by soccer, wrestling, basketball, field hockey, baseball, softball, and volleyball.
Concussions can cause significant and sustained neuropsychological impairment, affecting problem solving, planning, memory, attention, concentration, and behavior. The hallmarks of concussions are confusion and amnesia, often without preceding loss of consciousness. For example, an athlete with amnesia may be unable to recall details about recent plays in the game or details of well-known current events in the news. Amnesia also may be demonstrated by repeatedly asking a question which has already been answered.
Feinberg Consulting is a leader in TBI advocacy, helping families locate the proper resources and manage the complexities of care associated with this injury.