Sports injuries 101: How to recognize a concussion

Athletes participating in challenging sports need to know how to identify a head concussion when it happens. Concussions are most common in contact sports (such as boxing, football, hockey, and rugby), but they may occur in running events as well. The risk increases for runners who are involved in accidents with bicycles or motor vehicles.

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What is a concussion?

The term “concussion” likely traces back to the 14th Century Middle English word “concussion,” which means “shaking” and the Latin word “concutere,” which points to violent shaking, agitating, or striking.

Simply put, a concussion is defined as a traumatic injury to the soft tissue of the brain or spinal cord. This may result from a sharp blow, a hard fall, a sudden shaking, or violent whirling. This impact can cause the brain to slide inside the skull, perhaps even causing internal bleeding. A penetrating concussion involves object actually penetrating the skull. A concussion is considered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), even though it is generally not life-threatening.

Any brain or spinal cord concussion may affect cognitive functions and cause loss of consciousness, impaired balance, and vision problems. Although these effects are generally temporary, a person is statistically more likely to experience subsequent concussions after having one. This is known as “second impact syndrome.”

Adapted by this user from public domain photo.

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

The telltale symptoms are plentiful, and they may vary from person to person, in large part depending upon the level of injury sustained. Usually, a concussion sufferer will bear no visible signs of head injury, although bruises, cuts, and welts occasionally occur. He or she may have dirt, grass, or mud in the hair, if the incident included a fall to the ground.

Here are the 20 most common symptoms of concussion.

  1. amnesia (especially short-term)
  2. confusion / disorientation
  3. dizziness
  4. double vision
  5. drowsiness
  6. head holding
  7. headache
  8. incoherent or slurred speech
  9. irritability
  10. loss of consciousness / passing out
  11. motionlessness
  12. nausea
  13. neck pain
  14. reduced coordination
  15. seizures
  16. slowed reaction time
  17. tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  18. vacant stare
  19. vertigo
  20. vomiting

Asking the injured athlete a few key questions may be helpful, in gauging whether he or she has had a concussion. Consider these examples:

  • What is your name?
  • Where are we?
  • What day is it today?
  • Do you remember what just happened?
  • What did you eat for breakfast?

What should be done, if a runner or athlete has a concussion?

The first step is to refrain from continued participation in the race, game, workout, or other activity and seek medical attention. The risk of a fall and more severe brain injury is greater with continued exertion after a concussion.

Post-concussion symptoms may last for days or even weeks afterwards. These may include

  1. anxiety
  2. depression
  3. difficulty concentrating
  4. headache
  5. light intolerance
  6. memory issues
  7. noise intolerance
  8. reduced attention span
  9. sleeping problems
  10. taste and smell impairment

Medical professionals generally advise reduced physical activity and mental exertion, follow-up medical care, and a gradual return to sports (such as running and race training) after a concussion.

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