By Dr. Steven T. Gough, PT, MS, DPT, OCS
Pittsburgh’s star athletes Sidney Crosby and Troy Polamalu have increased awareness of concussions in sports. Head injuries are on the rise for athletes at all levels of play. An estimated 4 to 5 million concussions occur annually, with increases emerging among middle school athletes. The risk of injury increases when the athlete participates in contact sports (football, rugby, soccer, lacrosse and field or ice hockey).
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body. There may be no visible signs of a brain injury. Your brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by your hard skull. If your head or your body is hit hard, your brain can crash into your skull and be injured.
How can athletes prevent concussions?
Athletes in any sport can do several things to reduce their chance of concussion. Here are just a few:
- Cross-train to maintain strength throughout the body, rather than only the muscles used for your sport. Working on lower body strength and balance could help avoid collisions on the field. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the neck can also help reduce head movement after a hit.
- Wear the proper protective equipment. A helmet is essential to protecting your brain and can reduce your chance of serious injury by as much as 85%.
- Follow the rules! Many of the rules put into play have been written specifically for the safety of the players. In an effort to reduce the type of hits that can cause concussions, the NFL has stepped up its enforcement of rules against helmet-to-helmet contact.