Saturday, July 31, 2010

Knowledge a Key Factor in Preventing Concussions

This article was first published in the July 30th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

When writing a series of articles on concussions, hoping to raise awareness of a serious injury that is on the verge of becoming a crisis in sport - at the professional and amateur level, the best place to start is at the beginning. Please keep in mind as you read on, I am not a doctor, merely a concerned sports writer. If you think you have experienced a concussion, your best course of action is always a visit to the doctor’s office or your local hospital.

What is a concussion?
Medical dictionaries describe a concussion as a traumatic injury to the brain because of a violent blow or a sudden impact. Under normal circumstances, cerebrospinal fluids protect our brain, which cushions the organ and keeps it safe from serious injury. However, when the head is suddenly struck or jarred, the force of the blow can cause the brain to continue moving and strike the inside of the skull. When this occurs, the brain temporarily stops functioning properly and a person can pass out, feel light-headed or dizzy, become confused, have a temporary short-term memory loss, or feel nauseous. Make no mistake; while concussions are on the rise in high impact sports like hockey, football and rugby, the possibility of injury exists in sports like skiing and snowboarding, as well as falling off a bicycle or skateboard.

What should you do?
Proper diagnosis, rest, and avoiding physical activities, will in most cases lead to a full recovery and a return to a normal life. With each concussion though, the risk of a second or third increases significantly, as does the possibility of serious and life-altering damage to the brain; therefore, fully recovering from the original injury is crucial before an athlete returns to the playing field. The symptoms of a mild concussion can disappear quickly, so it is extremely important that athletes do not dismiss the injury as simply “having their bell rung” - a phrase far too common in the sports world.

Competitive by nature, athletes at all levels often feel they are letting their teammates down if they are on the sidelines for an extended period; they want to be in the heart of the action. Parents, coaches, and the athletes, need to educate themselves about head injuries and realize that staying off the playing field does not demonstrate weakness. We spend a lifetime accumulating knowledge and memories, why risk it all for an extra touchdown or a goal?

How do you prevent a serious concussion?
Being active is an important part of a healthy life and people should not cease playing sports out of fear, but knowing the signs of a concussion and being prepared with the proper equipment is essential to staying safe. Many manufacturers are focusing on new technology in helmet designs, which can help prevent serious head injuries. These new helmets are designed to lessen the severity of any impact and deflect the force of the blow. Research has also led to a new type of mouth guard for athletes. Thicker in its structure, it is believed that keeping the jaw properly aligned will also lessen the risk of serious head injuries. While these new designs are expensive, when it comes to protecting your brain, is it better to buy the least expensive helmet, or pay a few extra dollars for innovative technology? Before making a purchase, talk to the retailer or visit the company’s website to obtain valuable information on how to protect yourself.

In the August edition of Main Street, American Hockey League veteran Bryan Helmer shares his thoughts on concussions with The Voice of Sport. A good friend of Main Street and TVOS, Bryan is about to begin his 18th season of pro hockey and has played almost 1,000 games in the AHL. If you have a young hockey player in the family, make sure to pick up a copy. Have a great sports day everyone.

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