Last year, over 4,000 retired NFL players (many suffering from memory loss, depression, and other issues) sued the league, claiming it had concealed the dangers of concussions and pressured injured players to quickly return to the game. Since news of the lawsuit broke, concussions have become the hot button topic of the sports world. How do you protect players without compromising the fun and excitement of the game? Should kids be allowed to play contact sports? What are the real risks? In order to understand the issues surround this subject, it’s first important to know what a concussion is.
The most common type of traumatic brain injury, a concussion happens when a person’s head is struck with enough force (whether through a blow, a fall, or another type of impact) to cause the brain to come into contact with the skull and become injured. A person does not necessarily have to lose consciousness in order to get a concussion. Symptoms of concussion include headache, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, problems with concentration and memory, sensitivity to light or noise, depression, irritability, and sleep disturbances. Concussion symptoms may appear immediately or they may be more subtle, taking a day or two to be noticed. Although it’s often thought of as a sports injury, anyone can get a concussion (some common non-sports causes are falls, car accidents, and domestic abuse).
Although the majority of concussion symptoms resolve within 10 days (children and adults over 55 years old may need a longer recovery), possible complications include epilepsy, permanent memory and functional impairment, depression, Alzheimer’s, etc. The risk of suffering complications increases with repeated concussions. Therefore it’s important to know what to do if you suspect you or someone you know may have experienced a concussion.
• A trip to the doctor is in order. They will want to evaluate the severity of the person’s concussion as well as monitor their symptoms during recovery. However, be sure to seek emergency medical care if the person vomits repeatedly, demonstrates slurred speech, loses consciousness for more than 30 seconds, becomes clumsy, has seizures and/or dilated or unequally sized pupils, or has difficulty recognizing familiar people or places.
• Follow the doctor’s orders for recovery. Rest is the main ingredient, typically including a reduction in work or school responsibilities and other mental tasks (such as reading, computer work, balancing the checkbook, etc.).
• Do not return to normal activities, including athletics, until the person is cleared by the doctor to do so. He or she will likely want them to be symptom free for 1-3 weeks before resuming regular pursuits.
The saying “prevention is the best medicine” certainly applies to concussions. Accidents will happen, and not every concussion can be avoided, but there are a few steps you can take to help reduce your risk:
• Wear your seatbelt. Every single time.
• In sports, make sure all protective gear fits properly and is in good condition.
• Wear your helmet, whether on your bike, motorcycle, skateboard, scooter, whatever.
• Seniors should seek help for any balance problems they may have.
Should kids play contact sports? The benefits of playing sports are so great (including better social skills, improved academic performance, and countless health benefits) that parents will have to weigh the risks and rewards for themselves. Remember that there are different levels of contact sports: full-contact (such as boxing and football), semi-contact (such as karate and kickboxing), limited-contact (such as basketball and soccer), or non-contact (such as golf and tennis). Using your child’s interests as your guide, you can choose a level of contact that you feel comfortable with, but don’t let the fear of a concussion be the reason you keep your child out of sports entirely. With proper coaching and equipment, the risks of every sport can be minimized so you and your child can enjoy them for many seasons to come. Keep moving, my friends!