Sports & The Brain
Living with concussion
As a young man I was very athletic,I was into gymnastics,dance,martial arts,rugby and football, pretty much your usual teenage and adult male activities so nothing special there. I loved sport like crazy and paid little attention to the knocks and bruises I accumulated along the way. I remember my school rugby coach training us how to tackle, ‘Lean your head to side and show your neck’, he’d said, ‘You don’t wanna hit ’em with the top of your head or you’ll be out’, we all laughed and joked and carried on practising his technique of showing the neck then tackling the opposition to the ground. It came to match day and we were getting beaten by a wide margin. A huge hulk of a boy now had possession of the rugby ball and was charging to our try line. I was the only one standing in his way, I wanted to get the ball and show my coach how good I was, I needed that ball and damn it I was having that ball. Forgetting coach’s invaluable advice I stood still, bent forward with my head facing the hulk, reached for the ball and that is all I remember.
Coach said I wasn’t ‘out’ (concussed) for long, only a few seconds, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. I felt fine and didn’t know what all the fuss was and why I was laid on the floor. I had no pain, no aches so ‘What had happened?’ I asked.
‘Dude you got knocked out’, shouted one of the opposition, who swiftly got a clip around his ear from his coach and marched off the pitch for his insolence. But he was right as my coach confirmed. ‘So I died for a few seconds then’ I asked curiously, ‘No silly, just shook that pea brain of yours a little that’s all’ said the coach.
The next morning my neck had stiffened up and I had a cracking headache, I cried for a long time through the pain.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain that can cause a variety of symptoms. It’s usually caused by a blow to the head. Most of the time it doesn’t involve a loss of consciousness.
Concussion in sports can happen during drills, practices and games. Injuries during practice can be just as serious as those that happen during competition.
What are some signs of a concussion?
After a blow to the head, talk to your doctor if you have any of the following signs of concussion:
- Vision disturbance
- Loss of balance
- Memory loss (called amnesia)
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling foggy or groggy
- Sensitivity to light or noise
Types of head injuries
- A concussion is a jarring injury to the brain. A person who has a concussion usually, but not always, passes out for a short while. The person may feel dazed and may lose vision or balance for a while after the injury.
- A brain contusion is a bruise of the brain. This means there is some bleeding in the brain, causing swelling.
- A skull fracture is when the skull cracks. Sometimes the edges of broken skull bones cut into the brain and cause bleeding or other injury.
- A hematoma is bleeding in the brain that collects and clots, forming a bump. A hematoma may not be apparent for a day or even as long as several weeks. So it’s important to tell your doctor if someone with a head injury feels or acts oddly. Watch out for headaches, listlessness, balance problems or throwing up.
How is it diagnosed?
First a doctor will examine you. The doctor will want information from people who were there when the blow to the head happened. This is very important, especially if you’re confused or if you lost your memory. The doctor will test your strength, sensation, balance, reflexes and memory. In more serious cases, your doctor will want to get special x-rays of your head, called computed tomographic (CT) scans or magnetic resonance images (MRI).
Does medicine help?
The treatment for a concussion is rest. If you have a concussion, you will need to quiet your mind as well as your body for healing to take place. If you have a headache, you can usually take acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol). If you’ve had a concussion, always ask your doctor before you take any medicine. If it’s suspected you’ve had a concussion, your doctor may advise against taking aspirin, ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin) or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medicines can increase the risk of bleeding.
What should I watch out for?
Tell your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Stiff neck
- Difficulty walking, speaking or using your arms
- Severe headache
- Repeated vomiting
- Confusion that gets worse
- Unusual sleepiness
When can I return to sports?
If you have any of the signs or symptoms of concussion listed above after a blow to the head or body, you should not go back to play the day of the injury. A health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, needs to let you know when it is safe to return to play. If your concussion involves memory loss or loss of consciousness, you may not be able to return to play for 1 to 2 weeks. After a severe concussion, you may not be able to return to play for a month. If this wasn’t your first concussion, your return to play may take even longer.
What are the risks of returning to play too early?
A player returning too early could suffer from “second impact syndrome,” which can be fatal. A second blow to the head, even a minor one, can cause a loss of control of blood flow to the brain. Never return to a sports activity until you are cleared by a doctor.
Are there any lasting effects to a concussion?
Most people get better after a concussion without any permanent damage. Some people have signs of concussion for weeks or months. Repeated concussions can cause permanent damage. After several concussions, your doctor may talk with you about changing sports.
I had been boxing for a period of time and sparring with seasoned veterans in preparation for amateur bouts, on this occasion my coach put me against the local champion. We started off moving around the ring sizing each other up, I threw out a few body and head shots to get myself warmed up then continued circling the ring. As I stepped forward to throw another body shot my legs wobbled underneath me and I fell against the ropes in a daze. Yet again I felt no pain at the time but dizziness was definitely the order of the day as it took all my strength to keep on my feet. This was a technical knockout as I would not have been able to defend myself.
Any contact sport especially those focussed on generating full contact are dangerous, with the potential to cause serious head injuries to its participants. At the age of 42, prominent boxer Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Many people believe his condition was caused by brain injuries sustained in the boxing ring.
In medical terms, a knockout punch is a form of cerebral concussion. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a concussion is considered a brain injury and results in a temporary loss of brain function. When a punch hits the side of a boxer’s jaw, the initial blow causes a fast rotation of the skull. The brain is unable to keep up with the rotation and collides with the skull, tearing nerve fibers and bruising the temporal lobe. A rotational punch is usually the result of hooks or roundhouse punches. When a punch hits the opponent and his or her head throws straight back, it is linear punch often caused by a jab. A linear punch causes minor rotational acceleration. Oftentimes, it knocks the boxer into a daze, giving the opponent a chance to apply a rotational punch which may lead to an unconscious knockout.
What happens after a head injury?
It’s normal to have a headache and nausea, and feel dizzy right after a head injury. Other symptoms include ringing in the ears, neck pain, and feeling anxious, upset, irritable, depressed or tired.
The person who has had a head injury may also have problems concentrating, remembering things, putting thoughts together or doing more than one thing at a time.
These symptoms usually go away in a few weeks, but may go on for over a year if the injury was severe.
Will the head injury cause permanent brain damage?
This depends on how bad the injury was and how much damage it did. Most head injuries don’t cause permanent damage.
What about memory loss?
It’s common for someone who’s had a head injury to forget the events right before, during and right after the accident. Memory of these events may never come back. Following recovery, the ability to learn and remember new things almost always returns.
Is it true that the person must be kept awake after the injury?
No. If the doctor thinks the person needs to be watched this closely, he or she will probably put the person in the hospital.
Sometimes, doctors will send someone who has had a head injury home if the person with them is reliable enough to watch the injured person closely. In this case, the doctor may ask that the person be awakened frequently and asked questions such as “What’s your name?” and “Where are you?” to make sure everything is okay.
Get help if you notice the following symptoms:
- Any symptom that is getting worse, such as headaches, nausea or sleepiness
- Nausea that doesn’t go away
- Changes in behavior, such as irritability or confusion
- Dilated pupils (pupils that are bigger than normal) or pupils of different sizes
- Trouble walking or speaking
- Drainage of bloody or clear fluids from ears or nose
- Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
See Martial Arts