Caution urged when dealing with head injuries
Stephanie Rogers Collegio Reporter
Nick Pohlmann remembers the day when a former teammate suffered a severe head injury two years ago, causing practice to immediately stop so that coaches could tend to the injured football player.
Pohlmann, senior on the Gorillas football team, says that wasn’t the only recollection he had of a former teammate suffering from a concussion during football season. He also remembers talking with one specifically after the injury, recalling his teammate’s glassy eyes and inability to focus or concentrate during conversation.
“I’ve never experienced a concussion before,” Pohlmann said. “I’ve had my bell rung a few times and remember being dizzy, but definitely never had my brain smashed against my skull.”
Brain trauma , such as that caused by a sports-related concussion, can lead to long-term amnesia and depression.
Pohlmann says he remembers his teammate complaining long after his injury.
“He said he was sensitive to light, and still had a lot of headaches,” Pohlmann said.
According to an estimate from the CDC, around 300,000 high school and college student athletes experience concussions every year in the United States, a dramatic increase in the past decade. However, with the improvements of football helmets, fatality rates from severe brain trauma have decreased.
During the International Conference of Concussions in Sports, held in October 2008, improvements were made and guidelines set by the U.S. National Institute of Health to improve the safety and health of athletes who suffer concussive sports-related injuries. Members also addressed issues such as new research methods, protective equipment, management and prevention.
NCAA Division II Presidents Council then sent out conditions, obligations and policy rules that athletic institutions must follow and keep on file for concussion management for student-athletes.
In its proposal, the council “requires each institution to engage student-athletes in understanding their risks and acknowledge that they understand these risks, as well as their responsibility for reporting their injuries and illnesses, including signs and symptoms of concussions, which will help to ensure that the athletes are aware of the potential harmful effects concussions will have on their health.”
Sean Lauderdale, professor in psychology and counseling, says that depending on the extent of injury to the brain, along with the force of impact and location, a concussion can essentially cause the brain to twist and shear, damaging brain cells.
“The biggest concern is the location of the injury,” Lauderdale said. “The forceful twisting and rotating of the brain that occurs cause communication effects, and depending if the injury reached across the brain could cause one of the most severe types of brain trauma, referred to as a defused axonal injury. Researchers didn’t used to know that, but recent studies found it to be a super huge deal.”
After an injury, coaches, trainers, and medical personnel use a variety of evaluations to determine if an athlete can return to play; athletes must be able to answer basic questions about themselves, and pass a series of physical evaluations, which test coordination and balance. The player’s concussion symptom score, which measures a concussions severity by assessing symptoms such as balance problems, nervousness, and visual problems, must also be appropriately low.
How the student-athlete scores determines whether they will be able to return to play.
“Imagine a volleyball player who gets smacked in the head with a volleyball and finds that, ever since then, she can no longer concentrate in class, pay attention during everyday activities, and might take longer to come up with answers in a conversational classroom setting,” Lauderdale said, “What is being affected is called processing speed.”
Lauderdale says that as people age, their processing speed decreases. But if trauma is caused to one’s brain, it slows down the processing speed and can keep it down. Although this can sometimes can be rehabilitated, it may never come back fully.
Phil Carr, head athletic trainer, says the department wants to protect athletes and prevent them from playing too soon after a concussive injury.
“In terms of football players, we just want to make sure that staff members teach proper techniques and teach them not to target other players’ heads,” Carr said. “Preventing concussions to athletes that don’t wear helmets is still pretty difficult for us, because we can’t guarantee anything. We’ll just take care of them the best way we can.”