Posing the Question: Concussion conundrum

By LORAN POSEY – Sports Editor

Concussions have become a serious issue in all levels and types of sports, leaving the health of athletes at risk.

qrcodeCleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy suffered a violent helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison on Dec. 8, 2011 during a regular season NFL match-up.

Following a big hit and possible concussion, an athlete could experience increased sensitivity to light and trainers often perform a pupil dilation test. Photo by Carlo Nasisse.

When McCoy was taken to the Browns’ sideline to be evaluated, the training staff did not conduct standard concussion tests. The 25-year-old quarterback returned to the game a short two plays later, noticeably affected by the brutal hit. His decision making was slower and his play was significantly worse.

It was not until the next morning that McCoy was given an official sports concussion assessment, which resulted in the diagnosis of a concussion.

According to webmd.com, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain moves significantly in the skull. The brain trauma experienced during such an injury can affect a person for life, leading to post-concussion syndrome, long-term memory loss, brain damage and psychiatric disorders.

“In the past, because most of the symptoms were very immediate and brief, we’ve assumed that (concussions) weren’t associated with any long-term problems,” Athenian neurologist Dr. Terry Wimpey said. “But more recently, there is evidence that suggests, especially in patients who have had multiple concussions, that it can result in long-term or even possible permanent damage.”

Medical research shows that concussed players who continue to play put themselves at risk of permanent brain injury, as does a player who receives multiple concussions during their career.

“Most often, you will see short-term symptoms like headaches, irritability, concentration problems and confusion. However, growing evidence shows that (concussions) can result in cognitive problems such as memory loss, attention problems and concentration problems,” Wimpey said. “In sports where participants suffer multiple concussions, they will be more prone to neurological problems like Parkinson’s disease.”

If a professionally trained NFL medical team was not able to identify concussion-like symptoms in a player, imagine the challenges facing resource-limited high school training staffs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports-related concussions have reached an “epidemic level,” accounting for 15 percent of all high school sports injuries.

As concussions become a national issue, the Clarke Central High School athletic department is stressing the dangers of concussions to the training staff. The emphasis being placed on concussion awareness has become visually noticeable, as concussion posters fill locker room walls and coaches warn their players of the dangers of such injuries.

In spite of increased awareness, athletic training staffs may not always notice the symptoms of a concussion, and many athletes will hide injuries for fear of missing time or losing their spot on the team.

“Some players do not want to tell me (about their injuries) because they’re afraid of what I’m going to say,” CCHS Athletic Trainer Sheena Watkins said. “But it is an athlete’s responsibility to tell me, regardless of what they feel the consequences might be.”

But after years of coaches telling athletes to “play through the pain” and to “be tough,” what can we expect?

There are also situations where the athlete may not realize they are injured. In the case of a concussion, the athlete may not be cognizant enough to know exactly what happened. Therefore, it is important that trainers, teammates and coaches are constantly looking out for the health of the players.

As a result of the McCoy situation, the NFL established a new policy calling for teams to have certified athletic trainers in the press box to help monitor players and assist medical staffs.

That policy will help at the professional level, but until high schools find a solution that will deal with concussions and consistently teach student-athletes to self-report and to watch out for their teammates, the concussion epidemic will continue to plague high school sports everywhere.

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