Concussion is the most commonly reported injury in youth sports, at about 4 million per year in the U.S. Some of the long-term health consequences — permanent brain damage, depression and even death — have seen significant exposure in the medical literature and national news in the last few years. But despite its prevalence in youth sports and its potential long-term complications, athletes, parents and even physicians too often minimize the seriousness of concussions.
What is a concussion?
Essentially, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that disrupts normal brain function. It is a traumatic process, but does not have to be caused by a blow to the head (e.g., whiplash). It is a temporary injury that resolves spontaneously. And, because it affects the brain function and not the structure, radiology tests (CT/MRI) cannot identify it.
Common symptoms of concussion include: headache or pressure, neck pain, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, sensitivity to light/sound, blurry vision. Common signs that may suggest someone is suffering from a concussion include: vomiting, confusion, memory loss, seizures, irritability, balance problems, and loss of consciousness.
Concussions need to be treated similarly to any other sports related injury — with rest. The brain, just like bone, muscle and tendons, must be allowed to fully recover before returning to sporting activities in order to minimize the risk of re-injury. If you sprained your ankle or pulled a hamstring, would you expect to return to full activity before your injury was healed?
New state law
Gov. Pat Quinn recently enacted the Protecting Our Student Athletes Act. This new law, in conjunction with recommendations from the Illinois High School Association, states that any student athlete suspected to have suffered a concussion must be immediately removed from play and will not be allowed to return until he/she is evaluated by a physician or a certified athletic trainer working in conjunction with a physician.