It seems everyone is talking about concussions lately. A concussion can happen in any sport in which there is rapid movement of the brain within the skull. A From Pop Warner all the way to the NFL there are increasing regulations to help prevent athletes from sustaining a concussion. For example in Massachusetts, all high school coaches, athletes and parents are required to take an online course each year about the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

So why are concussions such a big deal? Haven’t people been getting concussions for a long time? Why are doctors and athletic trainers making such an issue now?

In recent years there has been more evidence that sustaining a concussion can have lasting consequences. When an individual sustains a second concussion it may cause catastrophic effects. These may include violent behavior, depression, memory loss and general personality changes.

A concussion is a form of a traumatic brain injury. The injury can occur from blunt trauma to the head or due to shearing forces in which the head is thrown back and forth or side to side (similar to a whiplash injury). Symptoms may include a headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, confusion, and sometimes loss of consciousness. If an athlete sustains an injury, it is critical to have them assessed by an athletic trainer, and/or their physician prior to return to play.

There are standardized tests that athletic trainers, physicians, and other designated healthcare professionals use to evaluate an athlete. It is important to realize that not every concussion is the same and neither are the athletes. They must each be evaluated as individuals, and cleared for return as individuals as well. Once cleared it is recommended to have a gradual return to activity. This usually begins with light cardiovascular activity and gradual return to sport. A If the athlete has any symptoms during any stage, the activity must be decreased and the progress begins again. Physical Therapy can help to facilitate a quicker return with modalities such as massage, gentle stretching, and progressive cardiovascular exercise and light strength training.

The research hasn’t shown any significant ways to prevent a concussion. There has been some research about changing the helmets in football, but this hasn’t had provided any definitive proof yet. There’s also some evidence that strengthening the neck muscles and trapezius muscles may help to reduce the risk by lowering the risk of shearing forces. Of course, learning the proper way to block a defender, head a ball in soccer, or land a stunt gone wrong can only help to make athletes less susceptible to a catastrophic injury.

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