Head Injuries: Perspective
Written by Sue Tymkew, Head Athletic Trainer, Chaparral High School
It’s that time of year again; sports are gearing up for another season. No matter what the sport, head injuries are very real part of the equation. The literature is out there and access to it is abundant. Almost without exception, education is the key to making decisions that are appropriate for individuals with head injuries and their families. As more and more studies become available, there is no denying that head injuries can have catastrophic consequences if you choose to ignore the facts.
Contrary to previously accepted opinions, there is really no such thing as a “mild” concussion or head injury. Of course, they are classified in various categories, but if your brain is disrupted, even slightly, it can be very serious. That doesn’t mean we have to live life in a bubble, but it does mean that there needs to be steps in place to achieve the best possible outcomes in the unfortunate event of a head injury.
There are some who would like to dismiss or deny the severity of their head injuries. “It was just a ding.” “We barely bumped heads.” “I’ve been hit harder than that before and was just fine.” These are a very short list of examples of what gets said after someone sustains a head injury. One person may run into a brick wall and show little or no signs of injury. Another barely gets bumped and is very symptomatic. There is no amount of force that can be the magical determination of severity.
According to recent research, it is quite possible that ignoring signs and symptoms of even a minor head injury can be damaging. Second impact syndrome is an extremely serious situation. The athlete denies or minimizes his or her reporting of symptoms, returns too quickly, receives another blow to the head and now may be out of athletics for several months, or even indefinitely. Those subsequent months can be agonizing, including recurring headaches, light sensitivity, memory loss, nausea, lack of concentration, or even death, just to name a few of a very long list.
Missing a few days or even three to four weeks seems to be the end of the world for some athletes, but the importance of brain healing time cannot be underestimated. We each have only one brain; it cannot be splinted or taped to return to practice or a game. It is a difficult concept to grasp because we cannot see the brain as we would a swollen ankle, etc.
Prevention, and proper equipment and techniques are key components in reducing head injuries, but will not prevent all of them. The portion that is very much in control is a sound “return to learn and play” protocol. There is no practice or game so important as to take a big risk with your brain. It cannot be stressed enough the importance of reporting a head injury and symptoms. If there are symptoms, it’s the brain and body’s alert that something is not right. There will be another practice and/or game but never another brain. Better to be safe and take the appropriate healing time, so when it is time to return, it’s at 100 percent, full go.
The State of Colorado has a law requiring removal of an athlete suspected of having a head injury, and Douglas County School District in conjunction with Panorama Orthopedic and Spine Center have procedures and protocols in place to protect athletes with potential head injuries. These cannot be modified under any circumstances. “Return to Learn” is the focus which goes beyond simply returntoplay. There is a recognition that this must be a multifaceted approach with the student component just as important, if not more important, than the athlete component.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a “ding,” “getting your bell rung,” or what seems to be mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.
A concussion cannot be seen on a CT scan or on an MRI.
A concussion does not require a loss of consciousness. If an athlete sustains a jolt to the head or body and then experiences signs or symptoms, a concussion has occurred.
(Reported by Athlete)
(Observed by Coach, Parent, teammate or Athletic Trainer)
DCSD in Conjunction with Panorama Orthopedics and Spine Center will follow the Graduated Return to Sport Strategy following a physician diagnosis and/or clearance.