Concussions 101: The Importance Of Awareness

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An athlete lays on the field after sustaining a head injury

Sustaining a brain injury, including a concussion, can significantly and abruptly alter an athlete’s life, not to mention the debilitating side-effects they may face, including headaches, fatigue, memory loss and dizziness. Seeing as March was Brain Injury Awareness month in the USA, we decided to continue to build awareness about the severity of brain injuries, and give you an overview of how they’re caused.

The Growth of Brain Injury Awareness

To give you a taste of how prevalent brain injuries are, here is a sobering statistic: The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) reports that someone in the United States sustains a brain injury every nine seconds. In response to the severity and scope of this issue, organizations like BIAA have made it their mission to continuously build awareness about the importance of early detection and education when combating brain injuries. This includes movements such as BIAA’s campaign, Change Your Mind.

From the knowledge as to what symptoms to look for, to how you can seek help, education serves as an effective way to combat brain injuries. Encouraging individuals who may have sustained a brain injury to step forward and seek treatment could save them and their loved ones much hardship.

Athletes are taking a stand as well! Corey Widmer, former New York Giants linebacker, has spoken about the importance of concussion awareness, in hopes that youth will put off participation in full-contact sports until their brains are more fully developed. Widmer sustained numerous concussions during his career and still lives with the side effects.

Briana Scurry, former Washington Spirit goalkeeper and Olympic gold medalist, advocates for women’s health in relation to concussions. She suffered from symptoms of her third concussion for three years, and faced challenges getting a proper diagnosis due to the differences in men’s and women’s concussion recovery. Scurry strives to raise awareness for further research of women’s concussions and improve the care women who sustain brain injuries receive.

ABI Versus TBI

According to the BIAA, an acquired brain injury (ABI) is a brain injury which isn’t hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. Some causes of ABI include electric shock, oxygen deprivation and substance abuse. Annually, over 3.5 million individuals sustain an ABI.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of ABI caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury. TBIs occur more frequently than you might think, and not only in sports. Some common causes of TBIs include falls, being struck, and motor vehicle accidents. 1 in 60 people in the U.S is living with a TBI-related disability.

TBIs can range from mild to severe, but even a mild TBI can have serious consequences. A TBI can result in difficulty in social situations or trouble carrying out tasks which were once considered to be easy, such as preparing a meal for oneself. A mild TBI might not be detected until an individual or their loved ones notices these symptoms. More severe cases of TBI can lead to long-term issues with memory, motor function, perception, and changes in personality, among other things.

Traumatic Brain Injury In Athletics

A boxer protects his head to prevent a concussion during a fight

Concussions are a form of TBI prevalent in athletes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur annually from sports-related activities.

Concussions are often difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms present themselves differently in every person, and sometimes there is even a delayed onset of symptoms. Most people who sustain a concussion won't lose consciousness, making detection even more difficult in mild cases.

At times, athletes may exhibit a tendency to hide symptoms to continue playing to avoid letting teammates down. This might be due to a lack of education about the seriousness of brain injury, or the normalization of playing through the pain with other types of injuries. Fortunately, technology is constantly in development to aid in concussion detection!

Athletes who experience a blow to the head or sudden impact must be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible. Tools like the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT) have been developed to enable ATs and other members of the sports medicine team to evaluate concussions and respond accordingly. By comparing post-injury scores to preseason baselines they can quickly know when something is off. Mobile-friendly Athlete Electronic Health Records (EHRs) like Presagia Sports enable this process to happen even faster. When ATs can take the SCAT3 (soon to be SCAT5) anywhere at a moment’s notice, they can make their assessment right on the field, saving precious time. Early detection and treatment can make all the difference when it comes to making a full recovery and getting back in the game!

The Risks Of Returning To Play Too Soon

Anyone who has sustained a concussion must avoid activities that could lead to another impact until all of their symptoms have subsided. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), an athlete who has sustained a concussion is 1.5 times more likely to sustain another than those athletes who have not. This number only climbs after subsequent concussions.

The consequences of allowing concussions or other brain injuries go untreated can be severe. The NATA advises that individuals with a history of concussion are at risk for second-impact syndrome (SIS). SIS causes rapid, and sometimes fatal swelling of the brain. This can occur if there is another impact before an individual has recovered from their initial concussion, due to increased intracranial pressure. Careful diagnosis and management of the initial concussion may help curb the instances of SIS.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a rare degenerative brain disease linked with repeated head trauma. It is thought to cause thinking, behavioural and emotional problems. Those who participate in high impact activities may be at higher risk, as found by a study of deceased NFL players' brains, which found CTE in nearly all of them. As of now, CTE is not well understood, but it’s always advisable to be cautious after sustaining any head trauma.

Although there are obstacles when it comes to prevention and detection of brain injuries, the body of research surrounding them continues to grow! As awareness grows about the risks associated with high impact activities, more and more protocols are being put in place to limit return to play after sustaining a head injury.

Want to learn more about brain injury? You can access more information about brain injury from the Brain Injury Association of America and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are a few other blog posts surrounding concussions and wellness that you may be interested in:

5 Alternative Concussion Recovery Tips You Probably Didn’t Know About

6 Product Categories That Could Change The Game For Concussions

Get Your Head In The Game: Mental Health In Athletes