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Healthy Headlines: Understanding the risks and signs of concussion among student-athletes

St. Elizabeth Healthcare

Back to school means back to play for many student-athletes. And that can often mean an increased risk of concussion as well.

“Concussion is a traumatic brain injury, either directly to the head or neck or indirectly from a blow to the body. It’s not a structural brain injury. It affects the functioning of the brain,” said James Hahn, MD, sports medicine physician at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

A direct hit to the head causes most concussions. However, a hard blow to the body can transfer force to the brain, causing a concussion too. Understanding concussion is important in protecting student-athletes and keeping them in the game safely.

What are the warning signs of a concussion?

“There’s still this persistent myth that you need to have a loss of consciousness to sustain a concussion, which absolutely isn’t true,” says Dr. Hahn.

(NKyTirbune File)

The most common symptoms are:

· Dizziness.
· Feeling “off” or not like yourself.
· Headache.
· Mental fog.
· Mood changes.
· Nausea.
· Sensitivity to light and sound.
· Trouble focusing.

“The most important thing for families, coaches and athletes to remember is: when in doubt, sit them out. If there is any concern for concussion at all, remove the student-athlete from play and don’t allow them back in the game until they’ve been evaluated by a physician that has expertise in evaluating concussions,” says Dr. Hahn.

What are the health risks of a concussion?

“Concussion doesn’t just impact physical health. It also affects academics, psychological well-being and social life,” says Dr. Hahn.

“Most aspects of modern life for young athletes can make their symptoms worse. Academics and the mental exertion of concentrating or trying to learn can exacerbate their condition. More and more, school is done using screens and that screentime can also worsen symptoms. Kids are playing more video games and they’re increasingly connected by social media to their phones. Taking all that away, even temporarily, can negatively impact all aspects of a kid’s life. It’s not just removing them from sports. It’s sports, academics and social life,” he explains.

Can concussion be prevented?

“Not all concussions can be prevented, but risks can be minimized,” says Dr. Hahn. “Properly fitting equipment is important. But there is no such thing as concussion proof equipment. No helmet, mouthguard or headband can eliminate concussion risks.”

“Style of play, proper technique, and playing within the rules are all vital strategies for concussion prevention,” he adds.

How does ImPACT® testing protect student-athletes?

“At St. Elizabeth, we use ImPACT® testing as a tool to assess brain functioning in ways that can be difficult to gauge on a standard physical exam. Testing evaluates things like reaction time and memory. It shouldn’t be used in diagnosing concussions and should be used with caution when making clearance or return to play decisions,” says Dr. Hahn.

“Ideally, an athlete will take the ImPACT test before they sustain a head injury. This establishes a baseline that can then be used for comparison post-injury to help with clearance decisions. That’s why the baseline testing is so important,” he adds.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare

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