Head injuries can be a common occurrence in contact sports and everyday life.
We often treat individuals injured in motor vehicle collisions, at work, or while playing sports. Regardless of how they were hurt, the head injuries have similar characteristics. As research advances, so does our understanding of the what's going on.
If you are someone you know has been hurt and suspected of having a concussion, this short post will seek to provide some understanding of what's going on.
How Do You Know If It's A Concussion?
It is common to think that a concussion is an injury where the brain moves inside the cranium and hits the front of the skull.
Were that true, it always seemed reasonable to me that there would be evidence of swelling in the frontal or posterior lobes of the brain upon MRI or CT scan.
Research tells us today that this is not the case.
There is no current imaging modality that can accurately detect or identify objective evidence of concussion.
When the brain experiences sudden whipping motions of the head, the matter in our brain experiences a force that stretches that junction and can disrupt or decrease flow in our brains. As a result, patients can experience a myriad of new symptoms.
Initially, there is a phase where the person injured may go rigid or stiff upon impact. The brain may then enter into a depressive stage that can last for several weeks. During the depressive phase, blood flow to the brain and ATP production (the fuel for the cells) is decreased.
It is during this time that patients often experience symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, light or noise sensitivity, mental fogginess, forgetfulness, dysarthria (difficulty speaking what you may be thinking) and a myriad of other possible symptoms.
Only a consistent injury mechanism and one of these symptoms need to be present to diagnose an individual with a concussion.
How To Identify Symptoms
Identifying signs and symptoms is the first step in appropriately treating and managing a concussion. Symptoms often improve before the metabolic changes (decreased blood flow and ATP production) recover. Individuals are often eager to resume contact sports and do the activities they love.
The danger of head injuries happens when individuals return to activity before they are fully recovered. A second head injury could be disastrous. If a second concussive injury is sustained before complete recovery, the depressive stage can increase from 30-45 days to 120 days.
Because of this serious risk, everyone who has had a head injury needs to be cleared by a doctor to return to full activities.
What The Research Shows
If properly managed and appropriate return to play/activity measures are taken, the good news is that research shows that there are no long-term consequences of having sustained a head injury. Proper assessment and diagnosis should happen as quickly as possible to ensure the fastest recovery and prevent any long term injuries after sustaining a concussion.
Concussions and the NFL
There have been several cases where professional NFL athletes have had long careers and show little to no signs of concussion. The reality is that injury is probably a combination of multiple factors. What the research does tell us is that we still need to pay attention to athletes and concussions.
It also tells us we need better management of returning players to play at an appropriate time. For our athletes, we need better mental health care and recognition of depression. Injured athletes require better options for managing pain. This is where the treatment and management of the potential effects of head injuries can be at the forefront of chiropractic.
It is hoped that many of the harmful effects of the concussion can be prevented through proper assessment and evaluation of players who have sustained concussions. We do this through regular care for athletes who are pushing their bodies to their limits and through early recognition and awareness of depression.
If you've had a head injury of any kind or if you know someone who has, please come and see us. We will take every precaution to make sure you are safe, properly assessed, and have a recovery plan in place.