A heads up on concussions and how to handle them

Local expert offers information on prevention and treatment of injuries

Concussions are fairly common in sports such as hockey, ringette and football – all sports that are currently underway or preparing to start their seasons.

A concussion can happen at any time throughout the year but with the start of the ice sport season, it is a good time for coaches, parents and athletes to start thinking about how to handle the injury.

“Concussions are a big issue, especially in amateur sport. In professional sport, there are fancy trainers that ensure the athletes all get back to sport appropriately, but for amateur sports there aren’t the same resources,” said local physiotherapist Laurin Wright.

“The issue is that athletes are not often managed properly when they have a concussion. Most of the time, they go back to sport when they feel better – however, symptoms are not always an accurate way of assessing when a concussion injury is healed.”

Wright said that although symptoms such as headache, dizziness or disorientation fade it doesn’t necessarily mean that the athlete is ready to go back to playing. She said this is extremely dangerous because compounding concussions can lead to serious injury or loss of life.

One thing that Wright recommended for local athletes is to take part in the Baseline Testing program available at Lacombe Physiotherapy. It is a program managed by Complete Concussion Management, a national organization.

“Essentially, it’s about testing the athlete before their season and before they get injured so that we know they are ‘normal’,” explained Wright.

“All of the Baseline Testing is based on things like cognitive tests, balance testing, reaction time, grip strength – a whole bunch of different things that are accurate enough to show if a person still has a concussion even when symptoms are gone.”

The test costs $65 per person. With the test, an athlete will receive a designated code that can be used in Baseline Testing facilities around the country. With this code, if athletes travel for their sport and get a concussion, their results can be compared to their initial test.

“The important part of this is we know what an athlete was like before they get a concussion,” Wright said.

“Maybe one kid has poor balance and they get a concussion, they may not even pass the balance test at all. It could be the other way around – the athlete could score very well the first time and do poorly or average the next time, so we’d know they are still concussed.”

Wright recommends the testing be done prior to the athlete’s season or early on so that any injuries can be more easily monitored.

“The initial concussion isn’t often the most serious. The worst thing that can happen is an athlete can get a concussion, not fully recover and gets a second concussion while their brain is in a vulnerable state. It’s called second-impact syndrome, and it can result in brain damage or death. That’s why it’s so important to not return an athlete to sport too soon,” she said.

“A concussion, as long as it’s managed properly, won’t usually leave residual effects. It’s more when an athlete receives a secondary concussion that things become an issue.”

Wright said that Lacombe Physiotherapy is hoping to host evening group sessions, where many young athletes can come through and do different stations. This way, teams could come together and it would be an efficient process.

Additionally, because registered physiotherapists host the event it can be claimed as a physiotherapy assessment for benefit reasons.

Wright said that there are a variety of symptoms that can stem from a person being concussed.

“Usually the most common things that people notice right away with a concussion is headache, dizziness and pain – those things. Sometimes there is sensitivity to noise. Loss of consciousness isn’t too common, but even if it does happen it doesn’t mean the concussion is more severe,” she said.

“A concussion is basically a discharge of all the neurons at the same time – that’s why people get confused.”

Even if a person is not hit directly in the head they can become concussed. Wright explained that a hard hit to the body could accelerate to the head, leading to a concussion.

“The thing that you have to remember about concussions is that those symptoms are the initial impact symptoms. Most people will start to feel a bit better after a few minutes, which doesn’t mean that they should go back to play. Usually, they haven’t hit the next phase of their concussion, which is usually 15 minutes after the initial concussion, and then a person gets worse,” she said.

“Especially for coaches and parents, it’s important to know that it doesn’t have to be a hit to the head and it might take some time to show up.”

She said that sometimes athletes with a concussion could experience a change in mood – maybe laughing or crying when it is out of character for them. She said that not all concussions require hospitalization and there are ways to decide which concussions needs further treatment.

“What you want to watch for in the first 24 to 48 hours is a severely increasing headache, loss on consciousness, the athlete not being able to respond, starting to slur their speech – those are the big red flags that say something is wrong,” she said.

Coaches, athletes and parents should all be aware of the signs and symptoms and should take necessary precautions to ensure the athlete is totally healed before returning to sport, she said.



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