Concussions In High School Sports
There’s nothing like that feeling of anticipation on the day of a game! Many young athletes relish the opportunity to experience the thrills and competitive edge required to succeed in athletics, particularly at the high school level. But they run the risk of suffering traumatic brain injuries called concussions during moments of contact or sudden change in direction in virtually any sport. As researchers learn more and more about how concussions affect the brain, it is important for parents to consider the long term impact that contact sports may have on their child.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion can occur virtually anywhere where there is a potential for head trauma, but concussions generally frequent in sports, especially those with a large amount of contact. In fact, they are most common in Football with 10.4, Women’s Soccer with 8.19, and Men’s Ice Hockey with 7.69 exposures per 10000 people (CNN Wire). What is a Concussion? “A Concussion occurs when the head hits or is hit by an object or when the brain is jarred against the skull, with sufficient force to cause temporary loss of function in the higher centres of the brain (Robinson, Cataldo).” This “jarring” is very common in physical activity which leaves athletes at a much higher risk of head injury than those who are not involved in sports. Many concussions involve a headache and are often accompanied by dizziness, vomiting, and nausea with light sensitivity and and potential blurred or double vision in extreme cases. Concussions can also be divided up into three different general grades of severity. “Grade 1: No loss of consciousness, transient confusion, and other symptoms that resolve within 15 minutes. Grade 2: No loss of consciousness, transient confusion, and other symptoms that require more than 15 minutes to resolve. Grade 3: loss of consciousness for any period.( Robinson, Cataldo)” Based upon the grade of Concussion, they are treated differently and may have differing times for athletes to be out of play.
Most athletes who have received a significant blow to the head or are experiencing the early signs of any of these symptoms immediately undergo concussion protocol consisting of evaluation of coordination, reflexes, balance, hearing, vision, memory, and strength and sensation. If diagnosed with a concussion they will be out of sports for an extended period of time and must be cleared by a physician before returning to the field of play. The real danger to many athletes is the concussion that goes undiagnosed in which their continual play may worsen the effects or leave them increasingly vulnerable to numerous Concussions. So, it is increasingly important that athletes report the first signs of a concussion to prevent further damage. Luckily for many sports, the majority of Concussions occur during competition rather than practice which occupies the majority of their time. One study found, “that across all sports, most concussions –63.7%– occurred during competitions. Only one sport had a Concussion rate higher in practice than in competition: cheerleading (CNN Wire).” This exemplifies the risk for traumatic brain injuries, called concussions, in the competition of contact sports on a regular basis.
Long Term Effects of Concussions/ Diseases Linked with Concussions
If concussions alone aren’t detrimental enough, they can often lead to diseases that will permanently impact an athlete’s life. Most common in football, “repeat Concussions and blows to the head can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease (Concussions in sports).” Symptoms of this disease include memory loss, depression, and dementia and can have far more grave effects on the life of an athlete. Although most common specifically in retired NFL players, the onset of the disease starts at a much younger age. Due to the fact that these head injuries frequent so much more in high school football then their older counterparts, often times by the time an athlete reaches the NFL, the damage has already been done. For many NFL players the disease has meant a shortened lifespan because of the extensive damage to the brain, but the study of their brains postmortem has helped the development of better equipment throughout the game.
Another condition linked with Concussions is Second impact syndrome (SIS) in which, “a person with a concussion, even a very mild one, suffers a second blow (minutes, hours, days, or weeks) before fully recovering from the first (Robinson, Cataldo).” This condition can be very serious and may result in swelling of the brain or intracranial pressure that can be fatal. Even those who are not killed by the condition may encounter mental disabilities as a result of the swelling. This condition in particular justifies and presses the idea that athletes must fully recover from their injuries before returning to the sport. What may have appeared a long and convoluted process for young athletes who are eager to return to the sport that they love, likely actually saved their life or greatly decreased the probability of further injury.
Although Concussions are fairly common, many can be prevented by wearing all protective equipment and wearing equipment that is properly fitted. The Gale Encyclopaedia of medicine says that, “many cases of concussion can be prevented by using appropriate protective equipment, such as seatbelts and airbags in automobiles and helmets in all contact sports (Robinson, Cataldo).” It is also always smart to avoid direct contact to the head with other players or any other aspects of the game. The head is the most vulnerable part of a players body and it is much safer and smarter to take a hit to the body where the mass is more spread out and its away from vital areas.
Concussions are drastically more common in highschool sporting events than any professional sports for several reasons. USA Today says, “The NATA study indicates that the true injury incidence likely is much higher since some research suggests that more than half of highschool athletes who get concussions are suspected of not reporting their injuries (USA Today).” This exemplifies what makes highschool concussions so detrimental, athletes avoid reporting their injuries because they love to play and do not want to spend the time recovering and being eligible. Another report associates maturity and development in neck strength in Collegiate and High School athletes with being the difference in the frequency of concussions between the two. It says, “On average collegians weigh 33 pounds more than high school athletes, but they stand only 1.2 inches taller, suggesting they have a more developed musculature system that is better able to control head motion after impact (USA Today).” So, because college athletes are more mature they have essentially grown into their bodies more and have accumulated more muscle mass, so that they can more effectively receive jolting blows from opposing teams.
Imagine a young inspiring football player with great talent and aspirations to make it all the way to the NFL. They have great success, but along the way they take many hard hits including a large number to the head. They find themselves being increasingly affected by the trauma and frequently experience dizziness and blurred vision. Later in life they experience dementia and die at a young age because of the extensive damage to the brain. This story demonstrates one of the many dangers of concussions at the high school level and how their effects on the body should be taken seriously. For many young athletes the love of the game is everything, but it is important to remember the risk of a concussion and the long term effects that it can have on one’s life.