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Concussions: A Dangerous Game to Play

I have heard many students say, “Oh, they are probably faking it,” or “They just want to get out of work.” Most athletes believe concussions are not serious injuries, and not an important enough reason to miss a game. In fact, 50% of high school athletes with concussions do not report them. But ignoring a concussion is extremely dangerous, and could lead to more serious symptoms, including death.

Academy’s athletic trainer, Kim Stercula, explains the cause of concussions: “Imagine an egg. The bony skull surrounds the brain much like an egg’s shell protects the yoke inside. You can shake it around all you want, and it will look the same on the outside . . . but the insides of that egg will be damaged when you are done.” Concussions can occur when a person gets hit anywhere in the head, when their head stops quickly, or when it is rotated abruptly. If this happens, the brain undergoes many chemical changes, and blood vessels may not be able to regulate blood flow, which causes swelling. These changes in the head produce the symptoms often reported by concussion patients.

Although concussions all have similar biological affects, all bodies have very different reactions to these changes. This could be why so many go unreported: athletes think their friend’s concussion was minor, so their own could not be that bad, right? Doctors would argue with that. Every brain reacts differently, so it is believed that every concussion is “individual.” No two people have the same brain; therefore, no two concussion are the same. Symptoms vary from headaches and nausea to loss of consciousness and behavioral changes.

Concussions may not be taken seriously because of these very different symptoms, as they are often internal and hidden by the “egg’s shell.” Most symptoms can only be reported by the athlete and cannot be measured by doctors while friends or coaches of the athlete can report others. Stercula explains that, often, neuroimaging (CT or MR scans) of the brain will show its structure but not necessarily concussions or their severity, as they involve chemical changes.

Instead of these tests, trainers can perform a sideline evaluation, in which they study the function of the cranial nerves through eye movement, as well as reaction, balance, and coordination. They may also use a neurocognitive impact test to measure the affects of a concussion on individuals, checking their memory and concentration.

Athletes take this test before a season begins, and if they are believed to have a concussion at any point in the season, they take the same test, and their results are compared. This test and a report of the athlete’s symptoms will allow trainers to assess an athlete’s concussion and treat it according to the individual, not the injury.

After a concussion, 92% of athletes do not allow their bodies to entirely heal, and resume normal activities far too soon. “The key to healing from concussion is proper recognition and management by a health care provider experienced in concussion management,” explains Stercula. If concussions are not managed properly, and athletes return to normal activities too soon, they can experience post-concussion syndrome.

The one-to-three weeks after a concussion occurs is a critical healing time for the body. It is often prescribed that patients allow their body to rest entirely. Rapid movement of the head or eyes can stunt the healing process. This is why many patients are not allowed to drive, look at screens such as phones, computers, and televisions, or read. Stress levels must also remain low during this period to allow the brain time to heal.

in the first week of suffering from a concussion, it is ideal for a patient to “just lie there and live” says Stercula. She wants patients to allow their body a chance to focus its energy on healing. Post-concussion syndrome can cause symptoms to last for up to three months.

It is impossible for all athletes to avoid concussions, but they are not impossible to treat.

All concussions must be reported, or else more serious symptoms will occur and athletes will end up missing more work than they initially would.

In the long run, athletes will have numerous games and sports seasons, but you will only ever have one brain. Which would you rather lose?

Click the boxes to view Columbus Academy Concussion Statistics

Written by Kendall Silwonuk’15

Animation by Connie Zhang’14 and Alex LiChen’16


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