Football, Concussions…and You?

Moviegoers who have seen the film “Concussion” know that the movie depicts a true story about a forensic pathologist who discovers severe brain damage in deceased NFL players during autopsies. The physician ultimately determines that the players died from a degenerative disease caused by long-term effects of repeated blows to the head—or concussions.

While many of us don’t have to worry about participating in an activity that puts us at risk of continuous concussions, like those who play contact sports, you should be aware that anyone can suffer a concussion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 1.3 million people suffer from concussions every year. And, while concussions typically aren’t life-threatening, they should be taken seriously.

Hospital Medicine Consultant at Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “Your brain, which is the consistency of gelatin, is cushioned by fluid inside your skull. When you suffer a blow or jolt to the head, it can forcibly slide your brain back and forth, which can stretch and damage the brain cells and create chemical changes. It also can lead to bleeding in or around the brain, which can cause symptoms such as drowsiness or confusion.”

Additional symptoms of a concussion may include

  • Difficulty in thinking clearly, concentrating or remembering things
  • Feeling “slowed down,” tired, having no energy
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting (close to when the injury occurs)
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Light sensitivity
  • Irritability, sadness, nervousness or, in general, more emotional than usual
  • Change in sleeping habits—more or less than usual, or having trouble falling asleep
“There is no such thing as a ‘mild’ brain injury,” says Dr. Juan Asuaje

Some symptoms of a concussion may occur right away, while others may not be noticed until days or months after the injury. “With long-term effects, a person may look fine but may act and feel differently without realizing that this is a result of the concussion,” Asuaje says. “Early treatment of concussion symptoms can help speed recovery and prevent further injury down the road. Ignoring concussion symptoms usually makes them worse.”

Asuaje says this is because after a concussion occurs, the torn or stretched brain cells need the body’s energy to heal. Thus, rest is essential. If a person doesn’t rest, more of the body’s energy is used on activities and less energy goes to help the brain, resulting in making the symptoms reappear or even worsen. “Beyond rest, the most beneficial way to treat a concussion is to slowly reincorporate physical and cognitive activities into a person’s lifestyle with the aid of a health professional,” Asuaje says. “By doing this, a person usually can progressively return back to normal daily functions and recover fully.”