Concussions suffered by high school, college and professional athletes are increasingly recognized by the medical community as a serious health concern. And with more young North Americans active today in hard-hitting sports like football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse and basketball, the increasing risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is raising new alarms for an Ohio-based rehabilitation physician.
Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, founder of the national Resurrecting Lives Foundation, which coordinates and advocates for military veterans with combat-related TBI, is also concerned about the effects of concussions on athletes, particularly those in their high school years or even younger.
According to Dr. Gordon, TBI results from a bump, blow or jolt to the head or the hit to the body that causes the head to move quickly. The short- and long-term effects from TBI concussions – often hidden to everyone but the victim – include dizziness, confusion, memory problems and difficulty dealing with light or noise. If unrecognized, these can lead to even more serious complications, in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): including anxiety, social isolation and depression.
“As a rehabilitation physician and someone who has worked diligently to recover from a brain injury of my own, I empathize with those athletes whose concussions have caused traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Gordon, who has made it her life’s mission to help people recover from TBI after personally facing such an injury herself.
“From my dual perspective of having treated TBI patients while also having lived, firsthand with those dark days of depression, I know just how challenging it can be to summon up the motivation and courage to find a new normal – to bring light back into that darkness,” she said.
Dr. Gordon is most concerned about student athletes because of the high number of young people who participate. She points to alarming figures:
- About 15% of the U.S. high school population – 2.5 million students – self-reported having at least one concussion related to sports or physical activity over a one-year period. This prevalence is higher than reported in emergency department estimates (622.5 visits per 100,000 population ages 10-14 ) and athletic trainer reports (1.8 per 100 high school and college athletes for an average season), according to the CDC.
- Sports- and recreation-related concussions are a leading cause of TBI-related emergency department visits among children and teens.
- Children and teens account for approximately 70% of all sports- and recreation-related concussions seen in emergency departments.
Dr. Gordon said concussions occur in all sports, with the highest incidence in football, hockey, basketball, rugby, soccer and lacrosse. “We all need to keep the concussion risk in mind when playing these sports, and, always, have a good pre-participation physical prior to play, which should include a concussion history. With the proper equipment and supervision, there are too many other benefits from sports and recreation. But young athletes and their parents should be aware of the risks and symptoms of TBI and, if needed, the resources available for rehabilitation and support. In many states, coaches, trainers and team physicians have greatly increased safety factors in high school sports,” she said. “But many programs still lack personnel who are adequately trained in concussion care.”
All 50 states now have “return to play” laws for high school sports. Such restrictions are vital, because if an athlete continues to play while having concussion symptoms or if they return to play too soon, they have a greater chance of getting another concussion, Dr. Gordon said. A repeat concussion can be very serious and cause lasting effects. A rare, but very serious complication can arise when a second blow to the brain occurs before symptoms from the original injury are resolved.
The Resurrecting Lives Foundation (www.resurrectinglives.org) encourages athletes who are experiencing one or more signs of traumatic brain injury to seek medical help as early as possible. Parents and coaches must also be on guard, aware of TBI’s symptoms, which are not always outwardly visible to others. These include dizziness, confusion, memory problems and difficulty dealing with light or noise. Dr. Gordon understands that our all-voluntary military is composed of many high school athletes who are physically fit, team and mission focused players, who possess great leadership qualities.
“Yes, this is a concern, but there’s also good news,” Dr. Gordon said, “TBI is treatable and its symptoms are manageable with the proper treatment.”
—Resurrecting Lives Foundation