Soon school will be back in session and fall sports in full swing. As we send our student athletes back into action, coaches, parents, and athletes themselves need to keep the signs and symptoms of concussions top of mind.
“Simply put, a concussion is a short-lived change in brain function due to trauma,” said Dawn Mattern, MD, FAMSSM, a Sports Medicine specialist at Trinity Health. Concussions can occur in any sport or recreational activity, but the potential for the injury is greatest in athletic environments where collisions are common, such as football, hockey, and soccer.
Recognizing a Concussion
Contrary to popular belief, not all concussions are the result of a direct hit to the head. A forceful blow to another part of the body that shakes the head and brain also can lead to a concussion. It’s often caused from contact with another player, hitting a hard surface such as the ground, ice, or floor, or being hit by a piece of equipment.
Recognition and proper response to concussions when they first occur are key to preventing further injury.
Unlike other injuries, you can’t see a concussion but you will notice its symptoms. Some symptoms present right away, while others can take hours or even days to appear. Symptoms of a concussion include:
• Loss of consciousness, although most occur without loss of consciousness
• Balance problems or dizziness
• Double or fuzzy vision
• Sensitive to light or noise
• Feeling sluggish, foggy, or groggy
• Feel unusually irritable
• Concentration or memory problems
• Slowed reaction time
Athletes who experience any of these symptoms following a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, should be removed from play immediately. “If there is any question [of a concussion], pull them out,” said Dr. Mattern.
Following a suspected concussion, the athlete needs to be evaluated by a medical provider to confirm a concussion and to rule out other injuries, such as a skull fracture or brain bleed. “If someone thinks, ‘Oh, I just got a concussion,’ and doesn’t get checked out, we may be missing a diagnosis of something more serious.”
The key to healing from a concussion is decreasing the demand on the brain to decrease the symptoms, explained Dr. Mattern. “The goal is to do what you can without making the symptoms worse. If resting and watching TV is okay without an increase in symptoms, then that’s okay. After a day or two, we may even try and do a bit of exercise to help the symptoms.”
Dr. Mattern warns about the dangers of returning to play too soon, before the brain is ready. “Those who return to physical activity while still experiencing symptoms have a greater risk of having those symptoms for a longer period of time,” she explained, adding that repeat concussions increase the likelihood for having long-term problems. In rare cases, they can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death.
An athlete should only return to sports with the approval and under the supervision of their healthcare provider. When available, they should work closely with their team’s certified athletic trainer.
Dr. Mattern’s office is located at 101 3rd Ave SW, Minot. For an appointment, please call 701-857-5500.