Sports-Related Concussion Risks and Prevention
The NFL’s concussion crisis brought high-profile cases of brain injuries, dementia, and even suicide in retired NFL players into the mainstream media. The topic even caught the attention of Hollywood, with the upcoming film Concussion opening this year, about UC Davis pathologist, Bennet Omalu (played by actor Will Smith), who first discovered chronic traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in professional football players.
Concerns about sports concussion injuries are not just surrounding football. Sports-related concussions in general are making their way into the limelight. Players from just about every level of sports today, from youth and high school sports to college and professional sports and from football to soccer to ice hockey and even water polo, are becoming more aware of the risks concussions pose.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is brain movement injury usually resulting from a blow or jolt to the head or when the head and upper body are shaken. When the brain bounces around inside the skull, it can damage brain cells and create chemical changes in the brain.
“Your brain is made kind of like Jell-O — it floats in fluid inside the skull and when the skull moves quickly, the brain can jostle around. It can wiggle, shake, just like a piece of Jell-O on a plate,” explains Dr. Christopher Giza, neurosurgery and pediatric neurology professor who directs the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program. “When that happens, you can develop neurological symptoms.”
For possible signs and symptoms of a concussion, read “Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness.”
Concussion and TBI awareness is on the rise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanding awareness with their HEADS UP to Youth Sports to experts at the University of California conducting studies of collegiate athletes and military personnel in order to gain more knowledge about these brain injuries. The hope is to find new ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent concussions for athletes of all ages.
According to the CDC, an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-and recreation-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. In fact, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article, “…sports falls behind only motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of traumatic brain injury.”
Once again, concussions aren’t just happening at pro and college levels, it is estimated there could be more than 100,000 concussions on a high school level with the largest number coming from the high-contact sport of football. Other athletes include soccer, basketball, wrestling and even softball players. Concussions affect male and female athletes in multiple sports. A study on college athletic injuries found that female softball players experienced concussions at double the rate of male baseball players. So female athletes also face these risks. In addition, concussions don’t only happen at games when players are giving their all. A recent study found many concussions happen during practice. The hope is these findings may steer coaches to implement strategies that would reduce player contact during practice.
One of the best precautions is for parents of young athletes to educate themselves and their children about concussion risks and to be sure coaches and others who supervise their children are well-trained in recognizing the symptoms. It also helps to be familiar with CDC’s sports concussion policies and laws.