Sports provide the greatest joys of many students’ college years, but every serious athlete also knows the threat posed by injury, especially head injuries. Common misconceptions, such as the myth that a concussion always causes loss of consciousness, compound the danger.
For those who play hard, injuries are not always preventable, but awareness of the dangers and knowing when to seek professional treatment can extend an athlete’s career by many years. This article and the infographic below provide some basic facts that every student athlete and medical professional should know about head trauma.
A concussion occurs when the head is shaken or struck so violently that the brain slams into the wall of the skull, resulting in some degree of brain damage. While the popular imagination tends to associate concussions with contact sports like football and boxing, a quick glance at the infographic below will show that all athletes are vulnerable to head trauma. Did you know that cycling is responsible for more concussions than football? Or that female athletes suffer more concussions than males?
While athletes cannot always avoid concussions cannot, responsibly managing a concussion that has already occurred is vital to the protection of an athlete’s life and career. Forty-one percent of athletes return to play too soon after receiving a concussion, making them vulnerable to Second Impact Syndrome (SIS). SIS occurs when an athlete suffers a second concussion before recovering from the first one, leading to rapid brain swelling. Fifty percent of cases of SIS result in an athlete’s death. We could avoid these deaths if athletes do not return to play until well after the symptoms of the concussion subside.
The Story of Junior Seau
Over the past few years, an increasing number of former NFL players who suffered multiple concussions have reported symptoms associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that resembles dementia. The most recent and perhaps the most high-profile of these cases is the shocking suicide of Junior Seau, whose 20-year career as a linebacker included 12 Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls. Although no evidence has surfaced (yet) to definitively link Seau’s suicide with CTE, CNN reported that the linebacker’s friends and family have said he suffered numerous hits to the head during his career. And according to Web MD, even linemen with relatively few concussions are very vulnerable to CTE.
The Zurich Consensus
One of the reasons that head trauma so often goes undiagnosed and untreated is that , until recently, there has been no consensus in the medical community about how to handle it. Many different guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of head trauma existed, creating confusion in both the medical and athletic communities. In order to address this division among medical professionals, two International Symposia on Concussion in Sport have been held in Vienna and Prague, respectively. These symposia led to the development of a document called The Zurich Consensus, which aims to create a unified understanding of and approach to the treatment of head trauma among athletes.
Injury remains a constant danger for student athletes, and head trauma carries some of the most severe consequences of any injury. However, athletes and medical professionals who know the symptoms and understand the treatment of head trauma can help to limit the damage associated with those concussions that do occur. The more people become familiar with basic facts about head trauma and The Zurich Consensus, the safer all athletes will be.
About the Author: Erica Moss currently works as community manager for Georgetown University’s online Masters of Science in Nursing, offering one of the nation’s leading midwifery programs. Outside of work, Erica enjoys photography and meeting new people.
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