What is a Concussion?
Simply defined, a concussion is a disruption of normal brain function resulting from a blow or jolt to the head or to the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head. Think of your brain as suspended in fluid within your skull, the same way a raw egg is suspended in fluid inside an egg shell. With a blow to the head, the brain can “bounce or twist around” inside your skull just like a raw egg. This motion disrupts how your brain functions and can damage nerve cells within your brain. Contrary to popular belief, one does not need to lose consciousness or be “knocked out” for a concussion to occur. In fact, less than 10% of sports-related concussions involve a loss of consciousness.
As per NJ Law and VTSD School Policy, if an athlete is suspected of sustaining a head injury, such as a concussion, the athlete will be removed from play, evaluated by the athletic training staff, and referred to an appropriate healthcare provider.
The athlete will not be allowed to return to participation until he/she has received medical clearance from an appropriate healthcare provider.
About Second Impact Syndrome
Second Impact Syndrome (SIS) is a potentially fatal injury that occurs when an athlete receives a second head injury before complete recovery from a previous concussion has occurred. The brain loses its ability to regulate blood flow, which can lead to blood vessel engorgement and intracranial pressure. This can cause rapid respiratory failure, coma, permanent neurological injury and possible death. The second blow may be minor, but can still cause SIS if symptoms are still present from the previous concussion at the time of the second impact. Fortunately, SIS is rare. More commonly, athletes who have back-to-back concussions without allowing adequate recovery (typically failing to report the first concussion) suffer from headaches or other symptoms for weeks or months. This prolonged recovery can result in missed school and even an entire sports season due to the inability to concentrate in class or tolerate exercise.
Nearly all of the cases of SIS have occurred to athletes 20yrs old or younger. Playing while still having symptoms from a previous concussion places the athlete at significant risk for SIS. Several theories have been proposed as to why younger athletes are more vulnerable than adult athletes. First, the brain is not fully developed at a younger age. Second, blood vessels in the brain tear more easily in the younger athlete. Third, the skull is thinner in the younger athlete, providing less brain protection.
Adolescents take longer to recover than adult athletes
While most concussions, 80% – 90%, resolve within a 7-10 day period, some adolescents may have delayed recovery period. The athletic training staff will work closely with the athlete, school staff and physician during this recovery period.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion
The list of possible concussion signs and symptoms is quite lengthy, however, the athlete often complains of one or more of the following: headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, confusion, difficulty concentrating, feeling “slowed down” or mental fogginess. Other signs and symptoms include memory problems, sensitivity to light and/or noise, sleeping more or less than usual, and balance problems.
Reporting concussion important
Athletes and parents should understand that reporting a head injury is important in preventing a potential catastrophic event that can result in death or permanent brain injury.
What about school?
The Athletic Trainers at Vernon Township High School work closely with area physicians. Your doctor will determine whether or not you should attend school, or if you need any academic accommodations. Concussed athletes may need a period of “brain rest” to allow complete recovery. Reading, taking tests, texting, video games, TV viewing and other stimuli may worsen concussion symptoms and prolong recovery. You may need to avoid tests, quizzes or major projects for a period of time, or may need to attend half days of school, or remain home, until given clearance by your doctor.
Return to play guidelines
All concussions must be evaluated by the school athletic trainer and/or a physician before returning to play. Once the athlete is symptom-free, a gradual stepwise return to activity progression is followed that is supervised by the athletic training staff. The ImPACT test may also be re-administered, as it is one tool used in determining a full return to play. Please note if your doctor indicates “no concussion” or a return to play procedure that differs from our school policy, it must be approved by our school physician.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition that can result from repeated concussions or even sub-concussive blows. Studies on NFL football players have contributed to the increased awareness of this condition. Abnormal protein deposits – the hallmark of CTE – within the brains of former NFL players who have suffered multiple concussions have been linked to numerous negative health effects such as early onset dementia and psychological disorders.