Parents of children involved in athletics are advised to educate themselves and their children about head injury and concussion before the season begins.
“The diagnosis and treatment of concussions and their long-term effects on athletes continue to be an evolving discipline,” said R. Robert Franks, D.O., Assistant Director of Sports Medicine and Director of the Concussion Program at the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute.
A concussion is a mild, traumatic brain injury – a disturbance of function of the nerve cells in the brain – caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or that radiates to the head from the trunk or neck. The injury is particularly common in contact sports, such as football and soccer.
Concussions range in severity, 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 lose consciousness. Because signs and symptoms can be subtle, many people may 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 hours, days or even weeks later,” said Dr. Franks.
“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,” said David B. Gealt, D.O., Assistant Director of the Concussion Program at the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute.
Fortunately, most concussions are mild and people usually recover fully. Complete mental and physical rest is required for the brain to heal. This can often take several days or longer.
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 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. Gealt said.
Sports Medicine specialists suggest that all athletes get a baseline brain function test prior to the season and within days after a head injury. The test would help physicians 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, the 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. Its physicians are all credentialed ImPACT providers.
Dr. Gealt is a delegate to the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey, and Dr. Franks is a representative of the New Jersey Osteopathic Physicians Society to the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey.