Concussions can occur in all sports

Posted April 27, 2007

You’re at the top of your athletic career, playing the best you ever have, when all of a sudden – Bam! Concussion.

Baby, you’re out of the game.

An estimated 350,000 American athletes sustain a serious head injury each year.

But that just counts those who lose consciousness – some concussion experts, like Gerry Gioia of the National Children’s Medical Center, put the overall number as high as 3.8 million per year.

The possibility of a concussion is something all athletes have to face.
So what is a concussion, exactly?

Brain tissue is soft and surrounded by spinal fluid and encased in the skull, which serves a protective cap.

When someone suffers a head injury, that tissue can slosh around inside and hit the skull, which can cause bruising of the brain, damage to nerves and tearing of the blood vessels.

All this can result in temporary loss of normal brain activity, otherwise known as a concussion.

There are certain sports where the likelihood of a head injury is higher, like football, boxing and hockey.

But concussions can occur in any sport, even those that may normally not be considered dangerous.

Even major league baseball, which isn’t meant to be a contact sport, has been hit with a few time-outs for its players.

Take major leaguer Corey Koskie, third baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, who has not been able to play since July of last year due to a concussion-related injury.

Koskie has suffered dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and extreme exhaustion that have greatly affected his career.

These are only a few of the symptoms that result from a concussion.

Headaches, sensitivity to light, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions and feeling anxious and irritable for no good reason are also indications of a concussion.

At the University of La Verne, head injuries are taken seriously by the athletic department.

“Each of our concussion players are seen by our doctors,” said Joanna Engel, director of athletic training services. “Our protocol is symptomatic, and there are about 10 different protocols.”

The athletic department takes other precautions, such as impact testing that tests reaction time, memory of words and shapes, hand/eye coordination and a symptom score of 25 to 30 different symptoms.

“We do have a computer-based program that provides some assessment of concussion symptoms, but this is only used as a tool, not as a mandate to allow the athlete to return to play,” said Paul Alvarez, athletic training clinical supervisor.

Alvarez also emphasized how crucial it is for athletes to be honest about past concussions, even minor ones.

“A repeat of even a minor head trauma can result in a catastrophic condition known as second impact syndrome. This is where the brain, still swollen from the previous injury, suffers a subsequent injury that causes further swelling in the brain case,” Alvarez said.

How serious can this be?

“Death, or a permanent vegetative state are the result,” Alvarez said.

Indeed, many players are inclined to be less than forthcoming with the truth, simply to stay in the game.

What many do not realize is how much they are really risking.

There is a sense of frustration that an athlete may feel with a concussion, because it is an injury that you cannot really see.

With fractures or sprains, you see splints, casts or at least bandages. With a head injury, it is important to note the changes in behavior, emotional health and overall well-being.

Concussions cannot be prevented, but there are precautions that can be taken.

“We wear protective headgear and mouth guards, as well as teach proper technique,” said Christopher Ragsdale, director of athletics.

“It’s really more about what we do when injuries of that nature occur.”

It is vital that athletes trust and follow the advice of professionals in order to ensure a healthy recovery.

No matter how big the itch to play is, in the end, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Cindy Lopez can be reached at clopez6@ulv.edu.

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