Coping with Sports Concussion

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It happened so fast, it was over before I even knew what took place. One second I was going for a loose ball on the basketball court, the next, my innocence and my two front teeth were gone. Thirteen years young and I was in a heap on the gym floor. I got too close and way too personal with the bleachers in the south stands. Oh God! I was jumping up and down running around in circles, crying, yipping, in utter disbelief. I didn’t know what to do. The only time I ever thought about my teeth was when my parents nagged me to brush them. I was now stunned by the realization they were history. Even though a bit foggy, I picked up the pieces and prayed for the best. They didn’t know what to do with teeth back then and as it turned out; my dentist’s solution haunted me for the next five years. When I looked in the mirror it was clear I was doomed.

The teeth my dentist gave me were silver. Silver Fangs! I was mortified and the humiliation came mercilessly every time I was razzed about them, pretty much all the time. So now that the insult was complete, all that remained for me to deal with was the injury.

I had a headache that went on for days……

I started getting really emotional. I was all over the map, agitated at the snap of a finger, wanting to cry the next. Sometimes I got dizzy, and the headaches continued. They were really a drag! What was really bizarre was that I was tired all the time, totally wiped out, and yet, I couldn’t sleep. My grades dropped off in school, I couldn’t read or concentrate, I’d go to say something and the words would vaporize in my mouth. I’d be standing there like a total dweeb. What was worse, I got to where I didn’t even care. My folks talked as though it was some weird phase I was going through.
They were right. I was recovering from a concussion.

In the olden days, as my son likes to put it, conventional wisdom and a great many neurologists held the opinion that you had to lose consciousness in order to be diagnosed with a concussion. That is just not the case. In fact, concussions are now rated by severity with Grade 1 and Grade 2 concussion not requiring a loss of consciousness. Grade 3 is the most serious and unfortunately, often results in some form of permanent impairment. About every 15 seconds someone experiences a concussion in the US in traffic accidents, on playgrounds and in my favorite venue, the mosh pit.

With skiing season upon us, football and hockey season in full swing and icy streets, sledding hills and sloppy cross country trails abounding, the risk factors for concussion are high. We’ve always thought the extreme sport enthusiast was at risk. But the fact of the matter is our brain is susceptible to microscopic bruising which occurs more often than we might think. We are all vulnerable to mishaps that can cause the kinds of symptoms I experienced, and other symptoms like amnesia and information processing deficits and sensitivities that can make us seem like a stranger to our closest of kin.

Sports concussion is common with over 300,000 concussions reported by medical personnel each year. One out of every ten high school athletes sustains a concussion annually. Brain Injuries are progressive too. People who experience multiple concussions should realize that with each subsequent insult the chance of permanent damage increases. Besides football and ice hockey, skiing, wrestling, soccer, cheerleading and lacrosse are sports posing the highest risk.

Prevention

Prevention is really key. And there are a good many things we can do to minimize the probability of experiencing a concussion. Helmets can and do help in averting injury or minimizing the severity of the injury. Once one has had a concussion they must be particularly careful before getting back into the fray. The NFL, NHL, MLB, and USOC as well as numerous colleges and high schools have begun using a concussion management program which conducts baseline assessments on athletes prior to the season and can reassess to ascertain the severity of impact on an individual athlete who experiences a concussion. Boulder, Colorado is home to one of the best screening and concussion management teams in the country. Athletes can receive baseline assessments and post injury consultations through the Sports Concussion Management Program at The Brain and Behavior Clinic. The cost of a screening is peanuts and it can be hugely valuable in helping the athlete prepare for their sport by taking the best possible precautions and understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Those on the receiving end of a concussion have often found that their cognitive impairments make them more sensitive to physical injuries as well. The links between our physical, emotional and cognitive sense of well-being are inseparable. So it goes.

Cognitive deficits trigger emotional upsets which, in turn, sensitizes us to physical pain and discomfort. Chronic pain impairs our ability to think. Mental mistakes get us upset. Friends and family members of the injured can certainly attest to the disquieting ripple effects of this triad on the family’s well being. This apple cart is unfortunately, more easily upset than any of us would like to admit.

So I’m dealing with a Concussion, What Can I do About it?
If you’re like most of us early retirement is out of the question. If the goal is to recover as expeditiously as possible with a minimum of aggravation, here are a few suggestions:

The Top Ten List of Things You Can Do

* Schedule frequent rest breaks.

* Plan periods for thinking and/or decision making around the time you’re most rested.

* Be more dedicated to proper nutrition, avoid caffeine, sugar, drugs and alcohol.

* Do whatever necessary to get enough sleep!

* Use a calendar, organizer, and write everything down, carry it with you everywhere.

* Use an alarm or timer to remind you of things and assess your current abilities (periodically measuring how long it takes to do certain things).

* Organize your environment, label things visibly, keep the things you use the most closest to you.

* Limit what you are exposed to, wear ear plugs, do one thing at a time, turn off the TV, simplify.

* Make realistic daily schedules and lists of things to do, check them off as you complete them, break large tasks down into bite sized pieces.

* Allow more time to complete activities, estimate time accurately, not optimistically.

* !!!!Team up with someone whenever practical!!!!

Now that I’ve finished writing this, I feel more like Wiley Coyote after kissing the bottom of the Grand Canyon for about the 50th time. Maybe dancing in the mosh pit isn’t such a good idea. Salud!

Symptoms of Concussion

Headache
Nausea
Vomiting
Balance problems
Dizziness
Fatigue
Sleep disturbances
Irritability
Sadness
Sensitivity to light & noise
Nervousness
Feeling slow
Numbness or tingling
Mentally foggy
Drowsiness
Trouble remembering
Visual problems
Distractibility
Poor concentration

By Dr. Stephen Walker

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