Learn the signs and wear protection

Feb 27, 2012
Outside Magazine

The injury:
Football isn’t the only sport plagued by concussions. Cycling, water sports, skiing, and snowboarding rank among the top 10 sports with the most reported head injuries, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. There are an estimated 3.8 million sports-related concussions suffered annually in the U.S. The U.S. Ski Team came under fire in early 2011 when Lindsey Vonn was cleared to race the super-G at the world ski championships, despite showing signs that she had not recovered from a concussion suffered during a training run six days earlier.

How to prevent it:
In contact sports, governing bodies have turned their efforts to enforcing new rules to lessen the number of head injuries suffered on the field. The NFL launched a website on Superbowl Sunday 2012 that outlines the measures they’re taking to improve player safety, including levying heavy fines for helmet-to-helmet contact. For sports like skiing and cycling where athletes suffer head injuries because of an unexpected and potentially uncontrollable crash, prevention becomes more difficult.

Because concussions can occur due to movement of the brain within the skull, helmets are generally ineffective at preventing the injury, though they have been shown to reduce the risk of concussion in lower impact collisions. Manufacturers like Bauer Performance Sports are trying to improve the helmet’s role in preventing concussion through better helmet design.

Therefore, most research has centered around proper care following a concussion to ensure the injury doesn’t lead to long term health issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists difficulty thinking clearly, irritability, and headache among the signs of concussion. Rest is typically advised as the best way to recover, and recovery can take months. However some concussions, particularly those that cause a loss of consciousness that lasts more than 30 minutes, can increase an athlete’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease later in life, even though the athlete may appear to be healed, according to a paper published in 2010 in The New England Journal of Medicine.  

“One of the biggest challenges with head injuries is they’re not defined at the time you fall,” says Dr. M. Ramin Modabber, chief medical officer of the Tour of California cycling race.  “It takes sometimes hours for symptoms to evolve.” It’s important, therefore, to watch for the signs of concussion following a head injury and seek treatment if they show up.

For more information on signs of concussion and when to seek treatment, check out this guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Want to learn more about minimizing concussion damage? Watch this lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the University of Michigan’s NeuroSport program:

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