Last week on Wednesday, autumn officially began.  Yet, the celebration of Michigan’s fifth season began earlier in the month with the start of football season! Whether it’s a Friday night on the high school bleachers or a Saturday tailgating for college teams, or even watching the Lions play on Sunday, many Michiganders can’t wait for the excitement and drama of weekend football.

Despite the fun of football season, it’s also the unwelcome season of serious sports injuries. Football is particularly brutal on players, with brain injuries as the primary cause for concern. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, more than half of all emergency room visits by children ages 8-13 are due to sports-related concussions. Among high school athletes, football is the sport most likely to lead to a concussion, followed by lacrosse and soccer.

Although concussions can be a serious problem in sports, experts agree that the benefits of participation outweigh the chances of injury. Because of increased awareness, many coaches and athletic trainers have taken preventative steps to make practices safer. Laws in all 50 states protect student-athletes who sustain a brain injury during participation.
At the same time, every athlete and their parent should know the basics of diagnosing and treating a concussion.

Diagnosing

Concussions are often called mild traumatic brain injuries and usually occur after a direct blow to the head. However, concussions can also occur in circumstances where the brain is impacted but not directly hit, such as whiplash.

Surprisingly, most concussion victims only experience a brief period of mental disruption and many don’t even lose consciousness. In addition, the symptoms of a concussion do not always appear immediately. It can take hours, days, or even months for symptoms to become noticeable. A combination of these symptoms can be important in diagnosing a concussion:

  • Mental – After direct or indirect contact with the brain, symptoms can include trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or remembering new information. However, be warned—simply asking someone basic questions immediately after an accident does not mean they’re concussion-free.
  • Physical – The most noticeable symptoms of a concussion are often physical, including headaches, blurry vision, queasiness, vomiting, dizziness, balance problems, and increased sensitivity to light.
  • Temper – The person may act more irritable, moody, depressed, or nervous than usual.
  • Sleep – Concussions can cause sleepiness and difficulty falling or remaining asleep.

An athlete exhibiting any combination of these symptoms should immediately report to a coach, parent, or school nurse. Adults should particularly pay attention to whether their child’s symptoms are getting worse over time.

If a player experiences a serious hit or suspects a concussion, they should not, under any circumstances, return to the game until they’ve seen a doctor. Since the symptoms of a concussion can take time to appear, athletes, parents, or coaches should watch the student carefully. Research has proven that high school students are particularly susceptible to serious brain injury following a concussion. Sadly, the effects of an improperly treated concussion can lead to major brain damage throughout a person’s life.

Treatment

Unfortunately, concussions don’t heal quickly. A full recovery from a concussion often takes two weeks or longer. Some people don’t feel totally recovered until a month later. In order to return to normal, a healthy healing process should:

  • Avoid strenuous and prolonged physical exercises and workouts.
  • Avoid video games, television, texting, computer usage, and listening to loud music.
  • Avoid long homework assignments that need to be completed in a short amount of time.
  • Avoid medications that contain aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Avoid alcohol, narcotics, and any substance that can affect the brain.
  • Include a gradual increase in the above activities as a way of monitoring whether the concussion is healing. If any of these symptoms persist, the activity should stop immediately.
  • Include extra sleep and relaxation time.

Medical research has proven that recovery from a brain injury needs to be a gradual process and will not happen overnight. In the long run, avoiding so many activities is worth it for students and parents, because in the long run, recovery occurs quicker.

So, as we celebrate the victories of our favorite teams during football season, let’s also celebrate the importance of understanding how to prevent serious brain injuries!

Sources and Additional Information on Concussions and Sports
Jane Brody, “Concussions Can Occur in All Youth Sports,” The New York Times, August 24, 2015.
Jane Brody, “The Right Response to Youth Concussions,” The New York Times, August 31, 2015.
Jan Hoffman, “Concussions and the Classroom,” The New York Times, October 27, 2015.
Ken Belson, “As Worries Rise and Players Flee, a Missouri School Board Cuts Football,” The New York Times, September 28, 2015.
Rachel Martin, “Is Football Worth the Brain-Injury Risk? For some, The Answer Is No,” National Public Radio, August 9, 2015.