Imagine having a headache and being dizzy for weeks, the only cure being rest and patience. In some cases, this is what a concussion feels like.
Concussions in sports are becoming a growing concern due to improved research and increased media attention.
“Research has confirmed that it takes longer for the adolescent brain to recover than an adult brain,” said trainer Ron Russ. This makes concussions an even bigger deal for high school athletes.
Mike Rogers, a junior at , described in detail how a concussion felt when he received one about a month ago.
“First it didn’t feel like anything at all,” said basketball player Rogers. “Then my vision went black and there was a really bright light.”
He also said that this happened over the course of a second or two. This was during a basketball game a few months ago when he drove down the lane and ended up being elbowed, followed by a hit from a forearm.
Concussions Can Impact Schoolwork
Not only do concussions affect an athlete’s performance, but they also can have a negative effect a student’s schoolwork.
“Sometimes I’m just so tired that I can’t pay attention,” said Hailey Laska, a freshman.
Laska is a cheerleader who received a concussion after falling during practice this fall.
The developing concern about concussions primarily focuses on athletes, both professional and those in high schools. Although concussions have other causes such as car accidents, much of the growing concern is within sports. This is due to the media’s focus, which trickled down from professional sports to college and high school.
The idea was stressed by many that sports have changed drastically over the years, football specifically.
Football “was more about endurance, people were tough,” said Don Johnson, a security guard at .
In the past, players usually played no matter what. Johnson played football at Northwestern University from 1977 to 1981. He played various positions throughout his football career, including running back, linebacker, and fullback.
Recovery is Vital to the Healing Process
Recovery is also an important aspect of concussions. Most doctors agree that rest is one of the most important parts of the healing process.
“I couldn’t do (any) physical activity for a week,” Rogers said. “The doctor told me to not read, text, be on the computer, watch TV, or do anything with my eyes.”
It usually takes about a week to get back into a person’s regular schedule, but it may take longer depending on the severity of the concussion.
“My teachers were really patient with me and it took a few days to get back to normal,” Rogers said.
Ryan Martin, a Libertyville High School sophomore football player, also agrees that rest is essential in recovery, as he had to take two weeks off from football several years ago. This was Martin’s first concussion.
“I was blindsided during kickoff,” he said.
Martin was hit from the side and landed on his head, which caused the concussion. Although he was only unconscious for a few seconds, he continued playing for about five minutes in a confused state until his coach pulled him out.
Mike Jones, a football coach and math teacher at Libertyville High School, said that his high school football team didn’t even have a trainer.
Concussions were even less of a priority in the past when dealing with key players of a game; They usually were kept in the game regardless of their condition.
Concussions can be especially risky if the person is unaware of having one. Contrary to what many people believe, most concussions occur without the patient becoming unconscious. While dramatic, loss of consciousness or seizures are not common in concussions and do not predict severity.
Studies of football players find that the majority of them are not even aware that they had sustained a head injury. Different people define concussions differently, so it can be unclear many times as to what a concussion actually is.
Concussion: Traumatic Brain Injury
The Illinois High School Association defines a concussion as a traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function. They are primarily seen in contact sports, but it can happen to anyone. Jones said that the impact with the ground after a collision actually could be more dangerous than the initial impact. The contact with the ground sometimes may be even worse than the actual collision if someone goes down hard enough.
Another aspect of how concussions are becoming more of a concern is how the football helmets have been changing safety-wise.
Throughout the years, many designs of helmets have been attempted, and they continue, as the ideal helmet has not been developed. Martin recalls players who have had concussions having to wear special helmets. One recent model made to protect against concussions is the Riddell Revolution Speed helmet, which is top-rated for safety by Virginia Tech researchers.
However, like other injuries, trainers are prepared in case of a concussion. This school district requires any student athlete and their parent/guardian to sign a policy before participating in a practice or competition.
“Fortunately, we have had only one major case in the past few years. It took months for this athlete to recover,” Russ said.
Compared to the past, some would consider the attention and precautions exaggerated. Johnson remembers playing in the football homecoming game for his high school, Evanston Township. He played the entire game, but acquired a concussion sometime and “woke up” in the fourth quarter. He still was playing but only remembered the first quarter.
Jones also recalls a time where he may have had a concussion. During a game, his knee hit his head.
Though concussions are an issue, some believe they have been over exaggerated due to the media primarily. The media truly has played a major role in the concern for concussions, which many consider to be over exaggerated.
“Things are publicized more, which scares parents, administrators, etc.,” Johnson said.
Testing Athletes Before They Can Resume Game
College trainers seem to be taking precautions a step further. The list of tasks that players must pass to resume physical activity are extensive. As part of the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool 2 used nationwide by trainers, athletes must display satisfactory results in answering basic sideline assessment questions, such as “What venue are we at today?” They also must answer concentration and memory (short- and long-term) questions, complete a balance examination and perform coordination and finger-to-nose assessments, among other tests.
ImPACT is a computer-based 20-minute test administered to athletes before they join a team or organization to establish normal, baseline results. Once a concussion injury is suspected, the ImPACT is subsequently given again to compare results.
There have been numerous newspaper, magazine, and television stories on the topic. Not only parents, but also trainers, schools, and others are taking precautions, especially with contact sports.
After a spike in concussion injuries in recent years in a variety of contact sports, such as football, rugby, ice hockey, and soccer, extra precautions have been implemented by various sport governing bodies. There is also a stronger awareness to protect players on all levels from themselves and the inability to recognize their own symptoms.
An example of a rule change due to this spike is the new rule in the National Football League that has moved the kickoff line up five yards to the 35-yard line. This was done in an effort to reduce injuries by “shortening the run.”
“Concussions … are life-threatening and will always be a major medical concern,” Russ said.