Many people are surprised to find out that the most common injury among athletes is not knee problems or foot problems, it is head injuries. More specifically, concussions.
A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain that alters mental status or causes other symptoms. Many people assume they do not have a concussion if they have not lost consciousness. However, significant injury can occur without losing consciousness at all. Football players often say "I just got my bell rung" when a blow to the head causes ringing in the ears, but those symptoms are often consistent with concussion.
When concussion is suspected, an initial "sideline" evaluation is usually done by an athletic trainer. This evaluation often includes:
Symptoms list review
Focused neurological exam
Focused orientation exam that tests short-term memory recall such as the event, play, opponent, score or last meal
Focused orientation exam that tests long term recall such as name, birth date, place of birth
Assessment of athlete's ability to stay attentive to a complex task such as reciting months backwards
If left undiagnosed, a concussion may place an athlete at risk of developing second impact syndrome—a potentially fatal injury that occurs when an athlete sustains a second head injury before a previous head injury has completely healed.
Concussion symptoms can include all of the following: balance problems, difficulty communicating and concentrating, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, feeling emotional, feeling mentally foggy, headache, irritability, memory difficulties, nausea, nervousness, numbness or tingling, sadness, sensitivity to light or noise, sleeping more than usual or difficulty falling asleep, visual problems—blurry or double vision, and vomiting.
All athletes who sustain a concussion—no matter how minor—should undergo an evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider, such as the ones here at American Spine and Pain Med Group, before returning to play. Athletes can return to play after they are completely free of all symptoms of a concussion and remain symptom free during and after physical testing.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine if the brain has healed from a concussion; even after all symptoms have resolved, healing may not be complete. Neurocognitive testing can be a very helpful tool in determining brain function. With a comparison to a baseline test, this evaluation can be used in conjunction with a physician's examination to reduce future risks.
Baseline testing collects data on an athlete's cognitive and physical abilities prior to suffering the concussion. Baseline testing can include a neurocognitive evaluation (usually by computer) that tests multiple areas of brain function, including memory, problem solving, reaction times, and brain processing speeds. Symptom checklists, sideline assessment tools such as the Sideline Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT), and balance testing are other examples of baseline evaluations that may be helpful.
At American Spine, we are dedicated to treating chronic pain and spine conditions. Offering the latest in minimally invasive spine surgery and other effective treatment options, American Spine is the leading pain physician group of California. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call us at (951)-734-PAIN (7246)
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.