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.
Coaches and trainers can also take steps to ensure their players are following the above guidelines, and they can also teach about concussions and the plays that can cause them. If a player sustains a head to head hit or collision, they should immediately be removed from play. Continuing an activity or returning to activity too soon may increase the damage done to the brain following a concussion.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Immediately following a hit or collision a player may appear to be dazed or stunned, forget plays, move clumsily, talk slowly, lose consciousness, forget events before the hit (retrograde amnesia), or forget events after the hit (anterograde amnesia).
Concussions can also be caused by multiple, minor blows, which is why players should be aware of the following symptoms of concussion: headache, nausea, balance problems or dizziness, double or fuzzy vision, sensitivity to light or noise, feeling sluggish or “foggy”, changes in sleep pattern, and concentration or memory problems.
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Q & A: ImPACT Testing & Concussion Management
Q: What is ImPACT?
A: Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing is the most-widely used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.
Q: When should an athlete be tested?
A: It is suggested that athletes 11(+) undergo baseline testing every two years and following a suspected concussion. The baseline test will act as a comparison to assess any changes or damage caused by a concussion.
Q: How should an athlete be treated?
A: Symptoms may decrease after hours, weeks or even months. If symptoms persist, a physical therapist can evaluate and treat many problems related to concussion. PT treatment can improve balance, stop dizziness, and reduce headaches.