A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury. It happens when a blow to the head or a whiplash movement forces the vital 3-pound organ to jerk back and forth and crash against the skull, damaging delicate brain tissue.
Roxanna Larsen, L.A.T., A.T.C., program manager for Orthopaedic Sports Medicine at Geisinger says, "Although concussions are not usually life-threatening, we are now starting to understand that effects from the impact can sometimes be serious and long-lasting."
Don't be fooled, concussions don't always knock you out. Headaches and dizziness are the most common symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 to 10 percent of athletes will have a concussion in a single season, typically those who play contact sports. Football players have a 75% risk for concussion - for women who play soccer, it's 50%.
One hundred percent head protection can never be fully guaranteed, but Larsen suggests the following five actions to help protect from and prevent any serious brain injuries.
- Helmets and mouth guards won't provide complete protection from concussion, but they can cut the risk. Make sure the head gear fits properly and has been tested by the American Society for Testing and Material
- Conditioning exercises to strengthen neck muscles could help protect younger athletes
- Some sports leagues and Pennsylvania schools provide pre-injury baseline computer tests to check memory, problem solving and reaction times. If an athlete has a concussion, the test can be used as a comparison tool. It can also be used to help doctors determine when the athlete is ready to get back in the game.
- Players who have a concussion during a game should be sidelined immediately and not return to play until a qualified health professional, such as a certified athletic trainer, performs an evaluation and determines return-to-play status. Remember, rest and relaxation is critical to help the brain heal.
- Parents, coaches and athletes should learn more about the risks, symptoms and treatment of concussions and get involved in school and league policies. Changing the rules and teaching concussion prevention strategies can go a long way in reducing the risk.