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Use Your Head: Keep Your Brain Safe

Most of us have somehow been exposed to a concussion, whether it was a friend, teammate, brother or yourself that suffered one. What causes a concussion? Of course we know that it occurs when someone is hit in the head very hard.  In a hockey game a concussion could easily be caused by a hit from behind, a collision into the boards or an accidental slip on the ice. All of these situations involve an excessive amount of force and movement of the head and neck. Yet, a common misconception is that you must be hit in the head to cause a concussion. This is not always true. If the body is hit with enough force to cause a whiplash effect, this can also resolve in a concussion.

 

But what is a Concussion?

A concussion is defined as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), when the brain accelerates and decelerates rapidly within the skull, resulting in any amount of symptoms. Imagine your skull is a jar of peaches. If you were to shake that jar rapidly, the external surface of the peaches would bruise and be damaged. The peaches represent the human brain. It is protected by the hard interior surface of the skull. Although the skull is there to protect our brain, it cannot fully shield it from strong forces that produce rapid movement.

 

How long does it take to heal from a concussion?

Following an incident that results in a concussion, the body experiences a rapid reduction in energy stores due to the disturbances of brain cells. This loss of energy lasts 3-5 days!! If the individual follows proper recover protocol, energy levels will restore roughly 3-6 weeks later. A huge reason why health professionals emphasize the importance of a proper recovery is because without it, an individual is much more vulnerable to experience a second brain trauma, even with a much smaller blow to the head. On top of that, in the instances of repeated trauma, individuals who suffer a second concussion before fully recovering from the first commonly experience lifelong symptoms.

One of the most confusing and frustrating aspects about concussions is that it is a “silent injury”. There are no crutches, slings, external bruises or breaks to validate the damage. On top of that, many times the symptoms of concussions do not reflect the actual damage. While some athletes “feel fine” and are ready to return to play, in fact many times they are not. Studies have found that post-concussion individuals generally feel better after 3-7 days. However, the brain has not fully recovered in this short span. The only way to determine whether an athlete is ready to return to play is to compare their current abilities to their abilities prior to the accident.

 

Recovery time for concussions are extremely variant, it is impossible to give a specific timeline. Individuals react differently to trauma and all collisions are unalike. Some injuries are more severe than others, while age and sex also influence recovery times. Though many athletes are cleared within 10-14 days to return-to-play, others who sustain more severe trauma require months to recover.

 

What are the Symptoms of a Concussion?

While some individuals experience a number of symptoms, others just don’t “feel like themselves”. Symptoms are extremely variant and it is suggested that if you experience any one of these symptoms following a significant hit to the head or body, you are more than likely concussed.

  • Loss of consciousness (more than 90% of concussions do not result in loss of consciousness)
  • Headache or pressure in the head
  • Neck pain or whiplash
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Balance problems
  • Feeling tired, fatigue, slowed down, drowsy or having no energy
  • Feeling “foggy” or not thinking clearly
  • Not feeling right or feeling off
  • More emotional
  • Feeling sad, upset or angry
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty reading or working at a computer
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sleeping more or sleeping less
  • Irritability

Visual signs of a concussion may include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lying motionless on the field or ice
  • Disorientation or inability to respond to questions
  • Blank or vacant stare
  • Balance, slowed movement, stumbling or incoordination
  • Clutching head
  • Slow to get up after a hit to the head or body

 

Returning to Learn, Work and Play

A new strategy developed by the Berlin Consensus for coaches, trainers and health professionals, progress adolescents and adults through a progression of stages to recovery. Each stage requires at least 24 hours before progressing to the next stage and the athlete must be symptomatic free. The protocol also indicates that return-to-learn should be completed before return-to-play is initiated.

Complete Concussion Management is a company out of Ontario who analyzes the most up-to-date research on concussions and develops evidence-based training protocols for post-concussion care. Below is an illustration of a 10-stage protocol they follow for all concussion injuries they face. You will notice that return-to-play in not initiated prior to completing return-to-learn. Once all of these stages have been successfully completed, the athlete is cleared to return to their regular activities.

Athletes who are involved in contact sports are more likely to experience concussions. It is important for these athletes to complete baseline testing each year with a trained healthcare professional for the unfortunate circumstance they experience a concussion. Having comparative baseline data is the best way to detect whether an athlete has fully recovered from the injury and can safely return to their regular physical activities.

To book an appointment for baseline testing and gain more information about the topic, book online at www.leducphysio.janeapp.com or call the front desk at (780) 980-5443. Get ahead of any potential injury. Protect yourself. Be safe.

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