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Concussion concerns: Head injuries may be common among athletes

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Concussion concerns: Head injuries may be common among athletes - Concussion Canada
Concussion concerns: Head injuries may be common among athletes - Concussion Canada

Believe it or not, the high school football season is just around the corner.

First practice for all Michigan High School Athletic Association teams officially starts on Monday, Aug. 6, and the topic of concussions typically seems to follow.

The damaging effects of a concussion have become increasingly well-known, and recent research has unveiled the injuries are common among U.S. high school students.

According to a study published in the Chicago Tribune this week, in a representative survey of nearly 15,000 kids in grades 9-12, just over 15 percent said they had suffered at least one concussion over the prior year.

The survey was conducted in 2017, and echoes results from prior surveys according to leading researcher Lara DePadilla of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Also, 6 percent of respondents reported two or more concussions over the past 12 months, while 2 percent said they’d experienced four or more of the head injuries.

In another study conducted this summer in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 40 percent of high school students who believed they had suffered a concussion said that “their coach was unaware of their symptoms,” CDC researchers noted.

Dr. Todd Sheperd of Bayside Family and Sports Medicine in Petoskey said in a previous story, which ran in the Petoskey News-Review last fall, collision sports have the highest risk of concussion injuries, however non-contact sports such as soccer and basketball can still lead to concussions.

“Short term effects include pain, changes in neurologic function as well as behavioral changes,” Sheperd said of concussions. “Long term effects are more difficult to determine.”

Sheperd also noted data suggests repetitive injuries to the brain can be associated with permanent impairment in memory (dementia), behavior (depression and other mood disorders) and movement disorders (sometimes similar to Parkinson’s disease.)

“There are multiple researches investigating the long-term side effects related to concussions and other types of brain injuries,” Sheperd said. “One condition in particular has gained signficant exposure in the press: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This condition appears to be related to repetitive head injuries and may develop symptoms involving behavioral changes as well as loss of memory and movement changes.”

Sheperd said there are still many unknowns regarding how concussions may lead to CTE. Questions and factors including genetic background, severity, number of head injuries as well as other risks including prior history of behavioral problems still need to be answered to allow sports medicine providers to counsel

There are still many unknowns regarding how concussions may lead to CTE.
There are still many unknowns regarding how concussions may lead to CTE.

their patients about the potential long term risks of repetitive head injuries.

As far as ways to prevention concussions, the most consistent way is to reduce the number of collisions and energy involved in the impact, Sheperd said.

“Despite the claims of many equipment manufacturers, adding additional layers of armor makes no significant change in the rates of concussion,” Sheperd said. “Enforcing rules and changing player behavior, however, does reduce the risk of concussion in sports.”

Lindsey Griffes, an athletic trainer at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center who attends a multitude of Petoskey High School athletic events, said the most effective action regarding concussion prevention is to follow and enforce rules of the sport which are meant to ensure safe practices and games.

“These include avoiding hits to the head in football (targeting) and removing the athlete from play if headwear comes off or is not fitting properly,” Griffes said.

Griffes said tests which determine the severity of a concussion vary with each athlete.

“Generally we start by assessing the physical signs and cognitive symptoms,” Griffes said. “I then assess cranial nerve functions, as there are 12 cranial nerves which emerge from the brain and brainstem, all of which can be tested quickly on the sideline.”

If an athlete fails any portions of Griffes’ assessment, they are immediately removed from play and coaches and parents are informed during the game or practice.

“They may be referred to their health care provider for further evaluation and management,” Griffes said. “If an athlete passes all the cognitive tests and are symptom free, I will then perform a functional sideline test, the purpose of which is to engage the athlete in physical activity to see if any signs or symptoms manifest. Activities may including running, sprinting, jumping, push-ups or any other physical activity that gets the athlete moving without being placed back into the game or practice.”

This article was reprinted with the permission of the Author Steven Foley. You can read the original article on the Petoskeynews Website.

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