Concussions: What’s the Big Fuss?

The term “Concussion” became a “hot term” in the early 2000’s and has become an even hotter topic as time has gone on. This hot topic entered into the American household when a Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) while performing an autopsy on a deceased retired NFL player. A movie titled “Concussion” was just released telling the story of Dr. Omalu and his discovery of CTE. With these new discoveries concerning CTE, concussions, and head injuries, a heated discussion about letting our children play impact sports has covered our country.

Current and retired NFL players such as Drew Brees, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, and Bart Starr have all mentioned concerns related to letting children play football due to the new discoveries related to head injuries. In New Mexico, a football player and his parents took their school district to court for trying to sit him out for the state championship football game. So with all of this hype concerning concussions and head injuries, what’s the big fuss?

In a recent survey by the Harris Poll, 87% of adults can’t correctly define a concussion and 37% state that they are confused about what a concussion is. So, what is a concussion? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines concussion as “a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.” Concussions can present themselves in many different ways following a trauma to the brain. These symptoms include:

  • loss of consciousnessdreamstimemedium_34811317
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • confusion

to name a few. These symptoms can last a short period of time, such as a day, or last months, depending on the severity of the injury. There are many different tests and measures that can be performed to diagnose a concussion.

Besides the longterm effects of a concussions and repetitive blows to the head, concerns are related to Second Impact Syndrome. Second Impact Syndrome is a rare condition in which a second concussion occurs prior to the first concussion appropriately healing, and causes severe swelling on the brain and can be catastrophic. This Second Impact Syndrome is one of the many important reasons in which concussions should be appropriately treated in allowing the brain to heal before returning to play.

The return-to-play guidelines tell us that an athlete following a concussion should be symptom free for a week prior to returning to play. During this week of being symptom free, the athlete will perform tests related to their sport in order to ensure that the brain is properly healed.

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With proper management, the majority of concussions resolve themselves with rest and proper treatment. Following the proper healing of the brain following a concussion, the athlete is able to return to competition. While most recover from a concussion within a couple weeks, symptoms may last months or longer. If this is the case, make sure you are in direct contact with your physician or medical provider. Also, specific techniques performed in physical therapy can help assist in and speed up the healing process.

As this is a very sensitive and important topic of conversation related to our children and sports, please consult with your medical provider, such as your local physical therapist, with questions you may have. Education on the matter is the best solution in making these tough decisions. Although research is being released often on this topic, there is more to come in this field of research.

Justin Longhurst, DPT
Physical Therapist
Utah Physical Therapy, West Haven