The Doctors Next Door

There's No Such Thing as a Minor Head Injury

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The hazards of concussions have been hitting the airwaves in recent weeks.  As a mother of three boys, each of whom have played football and one that still does, being reminded about the risks of contact sports rattles me.  My boys have always loved playing positions that get them right in the thick of the brutality.  I've envied that mother who watches her son gallop onto the field--pristine white jersey, not a single scuff on the helmet... he lobs a field goal into the endzone and everyone cheers! 

Then I look over at my own son with that piece of sod hanging off his facemask, muddied and loving it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a loyal Bears fan and have been seen pacing the sidelines at my sons' games, screaming "get 'im!" with the other maniacs.  Consistent with their general reaction to me, the boys find this very embarrassing.   

While concussions can be sustained in many different sports, football is the most notorious of them.  New studies have been coming out about the long-term impact of concussions, especially multiple concussions. And we're realizing that concussions often go unreported. So how can you keep your child's brain safe from harm?

First, what is a concussion?  A concussion is a blow to the head that is significant enough to cause the brain to bump up against the skull and sustain a "bruise" of sorts.  Common signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Dizzyness
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  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleepiness
  • Slurred speech

It's come to light that we need to be more vigilant in the recognition and proper management of concussions in our young athletes.  A study of high school football players conducted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, demonstrated that concussions are grossly under-reported. In this study of over 1500 athletes, more than 15% were found to have sustained a concussion and less than half of them reported it. Their reasons for not telling someone included one or more of the following:

  1. Didn't think it was serious enough (66.4%)
  2. Didn't want to have to leave the game (41%)
  3. Didn't know it was a concussion (36.1%)
  4. Didn't want to let down teammates (22.1%)
  5. Other (9.8%)

I can also tell you anecdotally, that when my eldest son was playing high school football, he was told NOT to go to a doctor without first talking with a trainer.  That advice raged a battle in my home one night when I was concerned my son had an injury that needed medical evaluation.  "Mom", he said, "if I go to the doctor before talking with the trainer, I'll get in trouble with the coach!" My read on this admonishment from the coaches, was "watch out for those doctors, they'll sideline you in a heartbeat!"

Even if the kid does tell someone of their symptoms after a head injury, it's bothersome to hear that only 42% of high schools in the nation have an atheltic trainer and that many trainers don't know how to recognize concussions.  The Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch  (CINN) is trying to change that. The Institute has created a pocket card that's been disseminated to high school coaches and trainers. The card describes the signs and symptoms of a concussion.  Before the season is over, don't hesitate to pass it along to your child's sports team staff.

CINN Concussion Pocket Reference.pdf 

You may also be able to tell that your child has sustained a concussion after the fact by recognizing the signs of post-concussive syndrome.  These include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizzyness
  • Memory problems or trouble concentrating
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems

A study was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in which phone surveys were conducted of 2500 former NFL players under the age of 50.  The study revealed that these former players were 19 times more likely to have been diagnosed with dementia and also had significantly greater rates of depression.

We also have local examples of kids that have suffered concussions and been at risk of serious brain damage. This October 7th Tribune article can tell you more about that. The dreaded second-impact syndrome is a horrible tragedy.  Second impact syndrome occurs when a player returns to the game before a concussion has been allowed to heal.  Even a minor blow to the head can be deadly in this situation. Thus, a very important reason to recognize concussions when they happen and treat them properly with medical evaluation, rest and avoidance of impact for an appropriate period of time.

Here's the link to a 60 Minutes segment on the topic.  (I thought I was going to miss the show because of the New England Denver game going into overtime.  Looks like our buddy, Kyle Orton, is making something of himself.)  It was hard to watch famed NFL tight end, John Mackey, suffering from severe dementia which first developed in his early 50's.  He's now age 68 and living in an assisted living facility.  Due to the financial struggles his family had in maintaining the care he needed, his wife approached the NFL for help.  Thus was born the 88 Plan, a program in which the NFL pays up to $88,000 annually to help players in Mackey's situation to help defray the costs of care.  About 100 former players are beneficiaries of the plan.   

That's one scholarship I don't want my kid to win. 

P.S. Don't forget your bike helmet and seat belts!





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