Part one of a three-part series on concussions, as the fall sports season is set to get underway shortly

It’s almost time for the high school fall sports season to kick into high gear. Practices have begun and students all over Greenwich have taken to the volleyball courts, pools, cross-country trails and turf in preparation for what is hoped will be a highly successful season.

However, while student athletes are hard at work learning plays, schemes, techniques and anything else associated with their sport, they should become more aware of a potential game-saving play.

Concussions are a huge concern throughout the sports community, both professionally and in youth leagues, as more and more teams are dealing with athletes who are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion, which is actually a mild traumatic brain injury, is a bump, bolt or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people are diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. While concussions are described as mild brain injuries, the effects can be quite serious.

In order to get a better understand concussions, Greenwich-based Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists’ Dr. Scott Simon believes that it’s best to know exactly what a concussion is.

He has been studying concussions and said the best way to describe a concussion is comparing the brain to a computer.

“I equate concussions to hitting the reset button on your computer,” Dr. Simon said. “The computer shuts down and then needs to reboot. The same thing happens to the brain. Concussions are a reversible brain injury. We recognized that you need to have people fully recover before you reintroduce them into sports or even into school or work.”

Some of the symptoms athletes might experience when they sustain a concussion are confusion, concentration problems, headaches, nausea or vomiting, blurry vision, dizziness, or just feeling sluggish. A concussion can have all those symptoms or just one of them.

Dr. Tricia McDonough Ryan is a traumatic brain injury and sports-related concussion management consultant to the ONS Foundation and is also a practicing pediatric neuropsychologist.

She states that, while looking for the hallmark physical signs of a concussion, people need to look very carefully at the cognitive aspect of concussions.

“While the brain is trying to gain balance again, if you exert too much or stress yourself physically or cognitively, it’s going to take longer to recover,” Dr. Ryan said. “Until they recover, they shouldn’t go back to play. We try to reduce stimulation. When you return to academics too soon and try to study for your test or try to do your homework, and you can’t do it, you stress your brain out. That means you’re still trying to recover and if you do too much of that, you’re going to prolong the symptoms.”

On the mild end of the spectrum for adolescent athletes who have a concussion, if they are put right back into their usual routine, they are going to have problems adjusting to school.

“I’ve seen B and C students drop to C and D students because their attention and concentration all dips down because of this traumatic injury that they need to recover from,” Dr. Simon said. “If they are driving, their reaction time decreases as well.”

He also said that more severe concussions affect the autoregulation of the brain. When a person stands up, more blood goes to the brain, while less blood goes to the brain when a person is lying down. Autoregulation is what keeps the correct amount of blood to the brain at all times, so that people don’t faint when they stand up after being prone. When a person has a brain injury, that autoregulation can get impaired.

“All of a sudden you could faint, have dizzy spells,” Dr. Simon said. “If you get a second concussion, there is a rare situation that could occur, called ‘second impact,’ where you have further damage to the brain that causes swelling. That could cause seizures and convulsions, as well as brain death. That is a rare event, but it can happen and has been documented to happen in patients who have been put back on the field too quickly after a concussion.”

Check back here Saturday morning, as the second of three installments of this series will have first-hand experiences of what a concussion is like, from the angles of both the student athlete and their parents.

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