By Katrina Milbocker
Sprinting to the end zone, the football player is ten yards away from making a touchdown, when suddenly an opponent tackles him to the ground. His head smashes against the turf as the fans roar. The game freezes in that moment as the injured player struggles to get up and walk off the field. Due to a severe hit to the head, he will not be allowed back on the field for the rest of the season.
A new awareness of the long-term effects of a concussion on a student athlete has impacted the way doctors, nurses, teachers, and coaches deal with the recovery of the player.
More than ever before, doctors and sports trainers are working to help with the full recovery of student athletes who suffer from any kind of concussion.
According to an article written by Gerard A. Gioia PhD, “A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury that has gained significant attention over the past 10 years with a better understanding of the reach of its functional effects.”
Concussions have always been a threat to players in contact sports, yet what coaches and players were not aware of were the lingering effects of such brain trauma.
“Although sport concussions account for fewer that 10% of total injuries attended to by ATs [Athletic Trainers], coaches should expect seasonal rates of up to 5% to 10% among athletes participating in contact sports,” stated Neal McGrath PhD in the journal of Athletic Training. He also noted, “It is very important to recognize that athletes recovering from concussions face certain predictable challenges in their academic lives in the days and weeks after these injuries.”
So what symptoms can student athletes account for after getting a concussion? Varsity football player from HHS, Chandler Paletsky, suffered from a serious concussion earlier this year. “I was playing football and I was running…and someone blindsided me and hit me in the side of my head,” explained Paletsky.
Once the trainer was able to identify that he had a serious concussion he started to realize the effects of the traumatic injury. He said, “I was dizzy, I had blurred vision, I had a really bad headache, and I had a really hard time concentrating. I had really bad balance and it kinda made me depressed. The moment I got it, I was really confused, everything was spinning.” In terms of returning to school he continued, “I couldn’t read ‘cause concentrating hurt my head.”
Continuing to recount his experience with concussions he went on to say, “I was out for the rest of the season. I didn’t practice anymore.”
He emphasized that even weeks later he was having trouble returning to regular routines. “After a month I went back to the gym…it ended up bothering me, so I decided to take another month off. I had ringing in my ears for four months. I often couldn’t get to sleep ‘cause the ringing was so loud.”
Doctors, school nurses, and trainers have developed new ways to monitor the lingering effects of a concussion.
“The concussion evaluation focuses on four main components: (1) defining injury characteristics; (2) identifying symptom status and neuropsychological dysfunction; (3) establishing the reported symptoms as greater than pre-injury status; and (4) determining effects on the individual’s life,” noted Gioia in his article.
The careful recognition and monitoring of such symptoms is important for an athlete because, “premature return to contact sports after a concussion may increase the risk that symptoms will be prolonged,” noted Gioia. There have been a few cases where returning early to such sports has caused fatalities due to, “a condition known as second-impact syndrome” to which, “high school—aged athletes are most vulnerable.”
An assistant coach of HHS’s varsity football team, Anthony Vizakis [known to students as Coach V.] explained how unfortunately, “There’s no pill or anything you can drink to heal a concussion. The only treatment for a concussion is rest.” All research shows that resting is the only thing an athlete can do to fully recover.
“It is very important to support student-athletes in being honest about any persisting symptoms and to help them understand that accepting the short-term loss of playing time is a wiser choice than risking the exacerbation of their symptoms,” noted McGrath in his article.
Although taking time off from a sports’ season is painstakingly difficult for young athletes, it is essential to their health. Paletsky agreed as he commented, “I was gonna wrestle [later in the year] but I couldn’t ‘cause my head was still bothering me.”
His decision to refrain from joining HHS’s wrestling team this year and his decision not to play varsity football next year exemplifies a student’s need for rest in order to recover.
Coach V. also went on to explain how coaches are becoming more educated in the recognition of concussions so that a player is properly taken care of if such an injury goes undetected by the athlete. “The MIAA [Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association] is instructing us to take a course on concussions, the treatments…the warning signs,” Coach V. clarified. “It’s an online course and it can take anywhere between one to two hours to complete.”
He advises that an athlete not, “avoid any warning signs, for example, migraines that last two hours, sensitivity to light, or even throwing up.”
With more coaches, trainers, and teachers recognizing the symptoms of a concussion, it is up to the student to take time to relax in order to fully recover. Although it is frustrating to take time off from school sports, athletes should be aware of the long-term risks of returning to a contact sport too early.