December 15, 2023
Concussions are not a new phenomenon. People have been injuring their brains through contact as long as we’ve been making contact.
We are more aware of them recently. What changed was when the NFL concussion protocol became public. The truth is the evaluation and diagnosis of possible concussions was happening long before then. It just took the Head, Neck and Spine Committee of the National Football League’s televised “sideline concussion protocol” to allow the viewing audience to become more aware of this injury.
Even though the spotlight is shining on this brain injury – and its logical link to football, it is essential to realize that each situation is different. And you do not have to wear shoulder pads and a helmet to pay attention. Concussions happen after car accidents, other sports, falls and many subtle ways. Some common symptoms may be:
- Headache/a feeling of pressure in the head
- Confusion or feeling as if in a mental “fog”
- Dizziness or balance issues
- Ringing in the ears
- Dazed or stunned appearance
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response to simple questions
What exactly is a concussion?
A concussion is an immediate change in mental status due to head and neck trauma. There must be an event that causes that change. “It might be a ‘stretching’ of the outside nerve coating, rendering it damaged”, said Dr. John Brannan from Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. “It’s actually a biochemical response to a head injury.”
How is a Concussion Diagnosed?
“There is currently no scan to determine if someone has a concussion”, said Dr. Brannan. “The injured person should be assessed to see if mental ability is being affected.” So, athlete or not, if you experience any of these symptoms after injuring your head or neck, you should seek medical evaluation immediately.
How is a Concussion Treated?
Once diagnosed as a concussion, rest is the first step toward full recovery. Then, the patient should work with their care team to determine a plan that will work for all. That will undoubtedly include a stepped return to activity (with evaluation at every step).
Can Concussions be Prevented for Football Players?
There are identified behaviors and techniques that can help. The remaining concern is that those techniques and behaviors must be taught much sooner – when children are just learning to play a sport. One example is not “spearing” with the helmet. Rules are being changed to protect players and kids are being taught to play the game differently. However, it will take years until these efforts reap full safety benefits.
When is the Patient Fully Recovered?
Dr. Brannan shared that a patient must be 100% symptom-free at FULL exertion to be considered fully recovered. Evaluating and tracking the patient every few days until they do not experience any symptoms during exertion (e.g. 20 minutes on a treadmill, light jogging for 40 minutes, cutting and sprinting) provides the information needed to determine if full recovery has occurred.
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