The soccer game was tied 1-1, with five minutes left in the period. The opposing team had earned a corner kick and kicked the ball high, setting up the teammate for a possible goal. Hannah came in from the defending team to block the kick. Suddenly, she was body checked from the back. She never saw it coming. Hannah’s head was flung forward and hit the ground, hard. Then everything went black.
Back on the sidelines, the athletic trainer put her through some tests and removed her from play. Later she was treated by a neurologist and followed the doctor’s orders to rest for a few days. However, her symptoms of headaches, extreme fatigue, dizziness and jaw pain continued for months after she returned to play.
Hannah had sustained a concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head. The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce inside the skull. This leads to stretching and damaging of brain cells and chemical changes in the brain. A concussion is classified as a “mild” injury because it is not usually life threatening. However, the effects from a concussion can be serious and last for days, weeks or even years.
The symptoms of a concussion can be physical, emotional, and cognitive and may include:
• Blurry vision
• Low energy/fatigue
• Light or noise sensitivity
• Sleep problems
• Personality change
• Change in work performance
• Memory problems
• Attention difficulties
• Slowed thinking
Concussion symptoms usually appear within minutes of the blow to the head. Some symptoms may take several hours to appear. Symptoms can change days later; others can develop when the brain is stressed by such activities as reading or running. When there is a loss of consciousness (greater than one minute), a neck injury, or symptoms such as weakness or numbness that persists, you should make a visit to the emergency room. A headache that is severe or gets worse, repeated vomiting, seizures, confusion or extreme sleepiness also warrant immediate attention.
The CDC estimates that there are 3.8 million concussions in the U.S. each year, and only 1 in 6 are diagnosed. Most people heal within a couple of weeks, but 15-30 percent of those diagnosed will have cognitive and physical symptoms that do not resolve following the first three months after injury. Instead, like in Hannah’s case, the symptoms persist, and in some cases lead to long-term disability. Many sports medicine doctors will referral to therapies for vision and balance problems, depression/anxiety, and related injuries such as whiplash.
All 50 states now require young athletes to be pulled from play if a concussion is suspected, with the help of legislation like the Gfeller Waller Concussion Awareness Act. Many have restricted contact in youth sports practices. Sports associations are training coaches to resist pressure to play injured athletes, and the National Federation of High School Associations is pushing for new laws that would require medical personnel at all times at youth sports games.
The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region strives to create a safe environment for kids to play and learn the game, while watching carefully to recognize the occurrence of concussions. We partner with Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs to educate players, coaches, and parents about concussions. For more information, visit childrenscolorado.org/concussions.
Dr. Gloria Winters is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in orthopedics and exercise physiology. She is the Chief Medical Officer for the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region with a focus on health care integration in the community. Contact Dr. Winters with questions or topic ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.