What are Traumatic Brain Injuries?
Brain Injury Awareness Month, recognized every March, grants us an important opportunity to bring awareness and attention to TBIs. TBIs, or traumatic brain injuries are jolts or bumps to the head that disrupt normal brain function. Most TBIs are mild, and they are commonly referred to as concussions. Nationwide, the CDC reports 1.6-3.8 million sport and recreation-related concussions occur every year. This statistic is staggering, but poses even further worry upon learning that as many as 50% of these concussions go untreated and undiagnosed.
For over fifteen years of my life, I spent countless hours training as a competitive gymnast. With practices reaching upwards of 24 hours a week, injuries were not uncommon, but were often fought through. Keeping this in mind, my senior year of high school, my gymnastics club decided to compete at a local meet. Unfortunately, equipment safety was not a top priority, and I suffered a severe fall off the uneven bars. Due to lack of concussion education between myself and the coaching staff, I continued through and competed the rest of the meet. It was not until a week later, after suffering horrible dizzy spells, blinding headaches, and nausea spurts, did my parents think I needed to see a doctor.
I failed every concussion test I was given, and was placed on a strict bedrest. Due to lack of initial care and ongoing reoccurring symptoms, I was out of gymnastics for almost three months. My neurologist stressed the importance of safety going onward, and I moved through to my collegiate career. Unfortunately, the first day of my collegiate career, I suffered an additional concussion after a fall on floor, no more than six months after my first diagnosis.
Lingering Effects of Concussions
Athletes that suffer from an initial concussion are 4-6 times more likely to sustain a second concussion. Why? How is this possible? After you suffer from a concussion, your brain never fully heals. Similar to if you sustain a broken foot or a shoulder injury, a weakness will exist even after it has fully healed. This means that a minor jolt or bump in an athlete with a history of concussions will result in a more serious diagnosis in comparison to an athlete will no history of TBIs.
Even after proper treatment and recuperation, I experience remaining effects of my concussions. Up to 86% of athletes will experience Post-Traumatic Migraines after suffering a concussion. The severity of these migraines and how often they occur are indicators of the severity of the injury and how well initial treatment was pursued. In my case, I experience ocular migraines, a type of migraine that results in the loss of vision in my left eye for a short amount of time followed by a migraine headache. I unfortunately will suffer from Post-Traumatic Migraines for the rest of my life, as will most athletes who went undiagnosed or untreated from concussions for long periods of time.
What should I do if I hit my head?
Concussion education within the sports community is minimal, resulting in dangerous, long-lasting effects on its athletes. I, like my coaching staff and many others, had no prior experience with concussions, and were not aware of concussion testing, important signs, or the damaging effects of untreated concussions.
Concussions are unfortunately inevitable, especially in sports such as football and boxing. If you do experience a fall or hit to the head, what should you do?
The Four Steps to a Full Recovery:
1. Major hits to the head, from sports, falls, or accidents, should immediately been seen by a doctor. A diagnosis and rest period after the initial incident is key to a full recuperation.
2. Look out for common signs and signals of concussions immediately after and throughout the following weeks after the injury. Common concussions symptoms according to the CDC include:
Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
Nausea or vomiting
Balance issues including dizziness or blurred vision
Bothered by light or noise
Feeling hazy or foggy
Mood, behavior, or personality changes
Confusion and memory issues, including a failure to recall events before and after the injury
3. Limit activities and exposure to light. Activities include and are not limited to:
School or Work
Sports or Exercise
Using a Computer or Cell Phone
4. Conduct an initial concussion test. Initial concussion testing by a physical therapist, EMT, or sports trainer could be pivotal to a quick diagnosis. Concussion Testing includes:
Testing Balance (Eyes Open and Closed)
Pupillary Reaction in Response to Light
Memory and Recollection Tests
Why Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month is Important to Me
Concussions are a rough, frustrating injury to encounter. It requires you to stop all activity and focus solely on the recuperation and proper healing of your brain. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a wonderful group of doctors, trainers, and nurses who always had my best interest at heart, and knew when I would be able to return to my daily life. However, many athletes are pushed through and asked to keep up their strict exercise schedules while working through a concussion, resulting in severe damage to their brain.
I hope to bring awareness of Traumatic Brain Injuries to the community of athletes, coaches, and parents. I hope that by spreading the simple symptoms, tests, and educational statistics about concussions that we are able to bring more awareness to the seriousness and danger that surrounds being diagnosed with a concussion. I also invite you to seek out further sources about concussions and TBIs in honor of this month. By spreading awareness and education about TBIs, we can bring light to a silent community and properly treat those with this invisible condition.
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