Anyone who watches the news has heard about concussions. Concussions may seem like the trendy diagnosis right now, but these brain injuries must be taken seriously. Unlike bruises, sprains or breaks that can be easily seen on an X-ray or other imaging scan, concussions can be sneaky. Adequate healing time is essential, especially in a young brain.
The Indiana Fire Juniors takes concussions very seriously. We work hand-in-hand with trainers from Methodist Sports Medicine to ensure that our athletes are examined thoroughly at the time of the injury and referred for appropriate treatment. We reached out to Nathan Hills, Director of Athletic Training Services for Methodist Sports Medicine at Grand Park, for more information on concussions.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a hit to the head or body. A blow to the head may seem obvious, but concussions can occur even when there is no hit to the head. Any hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth can cause a concussion. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Concussion symptoms can be roughly divided into symptoms you can observe and signs the athlete reports. Symptoms you may observe in a concussed athlete include:
Things a concussed athlete might report:
How is a concussion diagnosed?
Concussions are diagnosed through a combination of a clinical examination and neurocognitive testing. The neurocognitive testing may rely on programs like the ImPACT test, which uses a computer model test to determine if the brain has been affected by the injury.
What is happening in in the brain when a player gets a concussion?
Many people have heard concussions referred to as a bruise to the brain or a structural injury. But, concussions can be much more complex than that. Brain injuries can cause a series of chemical changes in the brain that affect brain function. These changes may not show up on a structural imaging test, such as a CT scan or an MRI. But they can cause lasting damage if not treated properly.
How are concussions treated?
An athlete with a concussion must completely rest from strenuous physical activity. Academic accommodations – time off from school, longer test times or a modified homework schedule – may also be necessary until symptoms have cleared. Many physicians will recommend limited or no “screen time,” to rest a healing brain. Neurocognitive test results will be used to determine whether the brain has healed from its initial injury. Once symptoms improve and neurocognitive test results return to baseline measures, a five-step gradual physical activity progression is started. The athlete must complete all five steps in the physical activity progression without symptoms before they are released for play. In some instances, athletes may also be referred for vestibular therapy based on the symptoms they present with.
Why is it important to avoid physical activity while the brain is healing?
An injured athlete must avoid what is called the Second Impact Syndrome. Second Impact Syndrome occurs when a second impact to the brain occurs before the initial concussion has healed. Second Impact Syndrome can be very dangerous. In extreme cases, it can result in death.
Are concussions in young people treated differently than concussions in adults?
They are treated very similarly. However research has shown that children (especially young children) tend to heal at a slower rate than adults.
How important are concussion specialists? Can’t a player just go to the Urgent Care?
The injured athlete should be seen by a physician trained in the diagnosis and management of concussions. They have specialized training in both diagnosing and treating concussions. It is imperative that the athlete be given all the right resources to be able to heal fully as quickly and safely as possible.
What does Indiana law say about youth athletes and concussions? Indiana Concussion Law (click link.) Indiana law states that if a player sustains a concussion, this player cannot return to play until he or she has been cleared by a physician trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and head injuries. This rule must be followed at all Indiana Fire Juniors games, practices, tournaments and other events.
(This article includes concussion information from the Centers for Disease Control.)