By Anthony G. Alessi, MD – Healthy Rounds
There are only two ways of dying suddenly in sports, cardiac and neurologic. The most common neurologic injury in athletics is concussion.
Concussion is best defined as “a syndrome of immediate and transient impairment of neurologic function secondary to mechanical forces.” It is the mildest instance in the spectrum of traumatic brain injury. Concussion is most commonly seen in violent collision sports like football, hockey and lacrosse. Unfortunately, many concussions go unreported, leaving athletes susceptible to more severe and potentially deadly injuries.
Typical signs of concussion include nausea, confusion, loss of consciousness, mood changes and uncoordinated motor function. Due to the nature of the injury, many athletes are unable to recognize that they have suffered a concussion. Close observation by teammates, coaches, officials and spectators is essential to identify the injury and remove the athlete from the contest.
Common symptoms of headache, amnesia, poor balance and light sensitivity may persist for days or months. This persistence leads to “Post Concussive Syndrome,” and may be permanent.
Another fear surrounding multiple concussions is the potential onset of “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.” This is a syndrome that includes dementia and behavioral changes that result from the cumulative effects of concussion.
The human brain continues to develop until the age of 18. During this period of growth, complex neural networks essential for thought and movement are being formed. Injury at this time may result in a lifetime of impaired function.
The most effective treatment of concussion is the immediate removal of the athlete from potential further harm. The brain has an impressive ability to heal itself with sufficient rest. The rest period includes abstaining from reading, computer and television viewing, text messaging and physical exertion.
Parents should consider directing young children away from violent collision sports until they are older. Sports that build athleticism, coordination and stamina may better serve athletic development.
Many parents believe that early exposure to physical contact will help build a successful professional sports career. More often, this plan leads to an untimely end of a high-level athletic career.
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