“There is little education and understanding about concussions and what happens to athletes when concussions are sustained,” said R. Robert Franks, D.O., Assistant Director of Sports Medicine at the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute.
A concussion is a brain injury – a disturbance of function of the nerve cells in the brain – caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. The injury is particularly common in contact sports, such as football.
Concussions range in severity from mild to severe, but they all share one common factor—they temporarily interfere with the way the brain works. They can affect memory, judgment, reflexes, speech, balance and coordination.
It’s important to remember that concussions can occur without loss of consciousness. In fact, most people who get a concussion never black out. Because signs and symptoms can be subtle, many people have suffered a concussion and never realized it. Symptoms don’t always occur right away.
“Some signs and symptoms may be immediate but others can occur days or even weeks later,” said John P. Salvo, M.D., Director of Sports Medicine at Cooper’s Bone & Joint Institute.
“Initial symptoms may include headache, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, vomiting, vision changes, disorientation and nausea. Later symptoms may include fatigue, concentration or memory problems, sleep disturbances, irritability, sluggishness and personality changes,” Dr. Salvo said.
Fortunately, most concussions are mild and people usually recover fully. Only time and rest is required for the brain to heal.
But serious complications can arise in severe cases, so any trauma to the head, face or neck should be watched carefully. If you suspect your child athlete has a concussion, seek medical attention to determine the severity of the injury. Athletes who aren’t fully recovered from an initial concussion are significantly vulnerable for recurrent, cumulative, and even catastrophic consequences if a second concussive injury occurs.
The best way to prevent difficulties with concussion is to manage the injury properly when it does occur.
“The advice we can give parents who have children involved in athletics is to get them a baseline brain function test,” Dr. Salvo said.
Sports Medicine specialists suggest that all athletes get a baseline brain function test prior to the season and/or immediately after a head injury. The test would help physicians, athletic trainers and coaches decide when a child should return to play by comparing the baseline test results to later test results.
The Cooper Bone & Joint Institute is a credentialed provider of ImPACT, a computerized brain function test that measures brain processing, speed, memory and visual motor skills. The technology is used by many national sports teams and is considered most useful in identifying the effects of concussion.
In fact, Cooper Bone & Joint Institute is the only hospital in South Jersey that offers the ImPACT technology, as well as a specialized program in the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and management of minor traumatic brain injuries. All physicians also are delegates to the New Jersey Brain Injury Association.