Hard-hitting Truths about Head Injuries in Sport

The Repercussions of Concussions

Anna Bolton

Concussions, one of the most downplayed injuries within the world of sports, are finally being taken seriously by coaches and players alike. And, given the severity of this type of injury, it’s about time, they say.

 A concussion is a form of brain damage — a direct blow to the head, face, or neck that causes the brain to shift within the skull. This causes physical, cognitive, and behavioural symptoms, affecting the injured in any way conceivable.

While no two people respond to a concussion in exactly the same way, common symptoms include: headache, neck pain, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light and noise, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, and anxiety. These symptoms can last for days, weeks, months, and for some, even years.

Concussion symptoms are only made worse when players return to the game before they’ve fully recovered. In an article for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, Iain Murray of The University of Edinburgh comments on the “temporal window of brain vulnerability to further injury” that exists during the recovery period. “A period of cognitive and physical rest is essential until the athlete becomes asymptomatic.”

So why risk worsening an already serious injury?

For Lauren Tamming, a member of the Redeemer women’s soccer team, it was a combination of things. “There’s a pressure to be fine,” she said. While cognitive and physical rest may be essential, it’s not exactly realistic, especially for a student-athlete like Tamming.

Although she was getting physical rest, as a student, cognitive rest just wasn’t an option. And since difficulty concentrating was one of Tamming’s symptoms, classes and studying became all the more challenging. 

Not to mention the fact that there’s no way to know how long recovery will take, as it varies from one case to the next. Tamming went through a frustrating four months after that fateful shot to the side of the head before she was fully recovered.

For most athletes, there is an eagerness to return to play despite lingering symptoms.

Caell Huyer, head coach of the Redeemer women’s soccer team, said that he’s “had to hold players back at times.” As an athlete who has suffered a couple concussions himself, Huyer noted: “It’s so easy to convince yourself things are fine… but then you wonder, ‘why am I pushing myself?’”

Athletes who return to play before they’ve fully recovered or push themselves too hard upon reentry to their sport often experience regression. Huyer said, “physical exertion made me a little bit dizzy,” and Tamming experienced worse headaches after trying to return to play before ready.

There is now a six-step process athletes must follow before they can return to game play:

-        no activity, complete rest

-        light aerobic exercise

-        sport-specific training

-        noncontact training drills

-        full contact training

-        game play

Athletes must be symptom-free for 24 hours before they can begin this process, and if at any point within these steps they experience symptoms, they must start from the beginning again.

 This system is just one of the ways in which concussions are being treated more seriously now than they were in the recent past. “Coaches are a lot more sensitive now than they were before,” said Huyer, who played for the Redeemer men’s soccer team while he was in school. “Information is so important.”

Indeed, the more researchers uncover about the serious and often long-lasting effects of concussions, the more it becomes clear; this type of head injury should not be taken lightly.