From Pop Warner to the NFL, concussions and head injuries have replaced broken bones and torn ACLs as the top concern of many football moms, dads and players.
In this Hangout, Roger Khetan, M.D., Cherese Wiley, M.D., and Jason Wander, M.D., physicians on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center, joined Mark Barisa, neuropsychologist on the medical staff at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, about this serious issue, especially as it relates to young athletes.
Here’s what they discussed. Watch the entire Google+ Hangout for more on concussions.
Q: What is a concussion?
A concussion is a disturbance in brain function that is the result of a direct or indirect blow to the head.
Q: What are the most common signs and symptoms of a concussion?
Most often people do not lose consciousness after a concussion. Symptoms of a concussion include headache, confusion, unsteadiness, abnormal behavior, memory loss, nausea and vomiting.
Q: What is the neurological impact of concussion?
Concussions generally don’t cause a structural change in the brain, but rather a chemical one. There is an influx of calcium and potassium into the cells which impairs function. Repeated concussions and hits can lead to more persistent symptoms and longer recoveries.
Q: How long should athletes sit out after a concussion?
Most athletes are back in action after seven to 14 days. While there is no hard timeline, athletes should be completely symptom free both at rest and while under duress before returning to competition. They should also be able to show normal, baseline cognitive function.
Q: What about participating in other activities like school?
Dr. Wander points out that there is no one way to manage concussions. Every case is different, and that some student athletes may have learning differences, depression or other conditions complicating treatment.
Dr. Barisa suggests that patients avoid texting, video games and high intensity activities. Students may need to change their school schedule through block scheduling or working from home. It’s important that they do what they can without overdoing it. It has to be a balanced approach.
Q: How has concussion management among the youth changed since it has become such a hot issue?
Most school programs now have concussion plans in place. New laws also mean that players with a suspected have to be cleared by a physician. Dr. Barisa says most coaches he speaks with are very receptive and have taken on the mantra, “When in doubt, sit them out.”
Q: How are most concussions usually treated?
Doctors begin with a thorough neurological assessment to rule out a more severe brain injury or spinal cord injury. Athletes are usually held out of sports since physical exertion can lead to worsening of symptoms. Then the patient is monitored and receives follow-up over the course of a week or two.
Prevention can be difficult, so take precautions when protecting your children from concussions. Keeping kids off the field or court is not the only way to reduce concussion risk. While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of concussion in sports, proper tackling technique in football and header technique in soccer can help reduce it.
Also, good sportsmanship and following the rules can be important. Dr. Wander points to recent research that shows strengthening neck muscles may help dissipate blows to the head.
This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.