Home / News / To Your Health: Understanding concussions key to safety

To Your Health: Understanding concussions key to safety

Nov 25, 2023Nov 25, 2023

To Your Health Alfred Casale

It’s always important for young athletes and their parents to learn about head injuries, but as we approach the beginning of the scholastic football season, concussion education becomes particularly relevant.

Football is not the only activity that puts kids at risk for concussions. All sports and even at-home play can cause this mild form of traumatic brain injury, even when proper head protection is worn. But most research lists American football among the sports with the highest rates of concussion, along with rugby, soccer and ice hockey.

Concussions are caused by blows to the head or whiplash movement that makes the brain move rapidly back and forth inside the skull, potentially causing tissue damage. Rarely are concussions life-threatening, but they can have serious and long-lasting effects.

Symptoms can include:

Drowsiness or difficulty waking up

Headache and dizziness

Loss of consciousness, even briefly

One pupil that is larger than the other

Unusual behavior, confusion, restlessness or agitation

Vomiting, slurred speech, convulsions or seizures

Weakness, numbness or worsening coordination in arms and legs

To date, we can’t provide full protection from concussions, but we can take steps to reduce our risk of serious brain injury.

On the field of play, student-athletes should wear head protection that fits properly and has been tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials. This also applies to riding bicycles or skating. Again, helmets and mouth guards can’t eliminate risk, but they can lower it.

Training like an athlete can help too. Conditioning exercises can strengthen the neck muscles and provide some protection.

If your school or sports league offers pre-injury baseline testing, you should get tested. Baselines for your memory, problem solving and reaction times can be used as comparisons if you sustain a blow that could signal a concussion. This tool also helps doctors determine when a player is ready to return to competition.

No athlete should ever play through concussion symptoms. If a player gets a concussion during a game, they should be immediately sidelined. Rest and relaxation are crucial for the brain’s healing process, and a player should only return to play when evaluated and cleared by a qualified health professional like a certified athletic trainer.

Recovery typically takes about a month, but some folks might need up to six weeks to heal. You should always begin recovery with no activity and gradually add activity to your routine as you begin to feel better.

Symptoms should be monitored and physical activity should be increased as those symptoms improve. If you’re moving too fast, your body will tell you because you’ll feel worse after activity. Overall, you should listen to your body and schedule an appointment with your doctor if you don’t begin to feel better.

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is chief medical officer for surgical services for Geisinger and chair of the Geisinger Heart and Vascular Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected].