The cartoons depict it as stars circling over the head. The term “bell rung” is used as an analogy to describe it. The effects are NOT like the other analogy of “cobwebs” that simply can be “shaken off.” ESPN used to feature clips including them in a hyped, manly segment called, “Jacked Up.”
What is it? It’s a concussion and it is no joke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are nearly 3.8 million incidences of sports-related concussions every year and that there are on average about 1.7 million people who sustain a traumatic brain injury annually.
*Headache, dizziness, and confusion are the most common reported symptoms of a concussion.
Historically, NFL, college and high school athletes have been encouraged to shake off concussions and get back on the field. Recently a NFL player went limp on the field after a hit to the head and was described as “shaken up” on the field. It was ignorant and wrong. Players have historically been encouraged to play hurt and that headaches or the “pops” taken to the head on the field are not like the injuries of broken bones or torn ligaments. In fact, they are far worse and effects much more permanent.
Reports estimate NFL players die on an average 15 years before the average American male. Before an athlete even gets to the NFL, he faces death practice after practice and game after game. It’s hard to imagine in the nation’s favorite (and most violent) sport. It’s not a popular thought and can be minimized because the odds are small of a traumatic event (defined as brain injury serious enough to effect body movement, brain capacity or death) and the fact the gradual, lasting effects of head injuries won’t be noticed by the victim for decades.
Congressional hearings held at the end of 2010 brought crucial attention to the safety of our children. And the fact it is not just a football issue, girls’ soccer is second to football in number of concussions; and many other sports have a significant amount of concussions as well. Yet, football is the biggest culprit and the glorification of toughness the biggest obstacle.
Too many high school and youth athletes suffer concussions without their coaches or parents even knowing it. And too many of these young athletes return to action too quickly — risking dangerous outcomes.
It’s difficult to even estimate the number. High school athletes reported having 100,000 to 400,000 concussions per year across our country. Younger brains are more vulnerable to injury and unlike in the NFL, there’s often no one on the sidelines trained to diagnose brain injuries. These individuals often release liability, don’t experience manifestations or symptoms until their 30’s, and have little or no “insurance” to address this problem.
In the last two years, eight kids have died from concussion-based problems and dozens more have suffered catastrophic brain injuries.
According to a recent study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, 40.5% of high school athletes who have suffered concussions return to action prematurely, risking more severe problems.
It’s sobering to note that only 42% of high schools have athletic trainers and those trainers obviously can’t attend all of a given school’s athletic events. Additionally, the vast majority of non-school related youth sports leagues, including football, conduct their events without any trainers or trained medical personnel in attendance.
Furthermore, coaches and parents are woefully uneducated when it comes to brain injuries. The result is too few concussions are properly identified, and the ones that are don’t receive the recommended treatment. Education is critical when it comes to concussions because multiple concussions increase both the short-and-long-term risks for young athletes.
Even more encouraging, legislation requiring coaches to be educated on concussion detection and proper protocol in dealing with head injuries is popping up around the country.
Recent laws in Texas, Washington and Oregon have mandated better concussion training and medical services in youth sports. Sadly, the statutes are all named after boys who were recently killed or seriously hurt by football-related brain injuries.
Secondary impact syndrome is a rare but extremely serious complication that can arise from a head blow — even a seemingly minor one — before a person has fully recovered from a prior head injury. The brain swells rapidly after the second impact, causing immediate complications and damage, such as shutting down the brain stem and resulting in respiratory failure and paralysis or death.
In the milliseconds after a concussion, there is a sudden release of neurotransmitters as billions of brain cells turn themselves on at the exact same time. This frenzy of activity leads to a surge of electricity, an unleashing of the charged ions contained within neurons. It’s as if the brain is pouring out its power.
The healing also has to be uninterrupted. In the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury, the brain remains extremely fragile. Because neurons are still starved for energy, even a minor “secondary impact” can unleash a devastating molecular cascade. All of a sudden, brain cells that seemed to be regaining their balance begin committing suicide. The end result is a massive loss of neurons. Nobody knows why this loss happens. But the loss is permanent.