Are You At Risk? Concussions Not Just a Football Problem

Published on psychologytoday.com, Dec. 22, 2014
(Part 1 of a 2-part series)

By Harry Kerasidis, MD

While concussions in football, soccer and hockey grab the headlines, a jarring fall or untimely hit to the head occur more often than you think. Even if you don’t play a sport, concussions can occur in every day life, at any age, and with varying levels of severity.

The biggest risk is not acknowledging you may have a brain injury. Here’s what you need to know about the potential risk of concussions in your life.

Whether you hit your head getting out of the car, slip in the shower, slam your head on the ground after a fall — whether it’s on a bicycle, skiing, skateboarding, roller blading, sledding, slipping on ice — or just a random bump from running into pole, walking into a closed sliding glass door or low ceiling beam, concussions are more prevalent than you think.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back is the build-up of what is referred to as “sub-concussive” hits. These are blows to the brain that may not reveal themselves as concussions, but will add up over time. Depending on the health of your brain, you may be at risk of a concussion and not even know it. Every bump, every slip, every knock on your head are adding up.

The next hit could cause a concussion, a brain injury like a brain sprain or a bruise on a banana that at a microscopic level can impact your life on a macroscopic level.

When enough outside force is applied to the supple, and most important organ in the body, problems can occur. Memory can be forgotten. Emotions can be triggered. Impulsive decisions can be unleashed. Headaches can invade. Motivation can fade. Disabilities may develop. Depression may follow. Some injuries have the capacity to alter a person’s sense of self, while others affect abilities, such as speech or vision, an even affect a person’s sense of who they are.

If you are experiencing unexplained problems, you may need to ask yourself, “when was the last time I hit my head?”

The tricky part about detecting concussions is the signs and symptoms may not materialize until several minutes, hours or days after the injury occurs. So, you may have an intense headache but won’t be able to relate it to a bump you experienced a day or two beforehand.

Concussions may be one of the most common injuries in the world. The Center for Disease Control estimates as many as 3.8 million sports and recreational activity concussions occur each year in the US alone. However, as many as 90% of concussions go unreported. This number does not include car and bicycle crashes, falls, assaults, war zone concussions, work-related concussions, or any of the other examples.

Young children have the highest concussion rate among all age groups. Because their heads are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their body, concussions often occur in young children. As kids enter adolescence, they experience rapid height and weight gain. Both are factors that make them more prone to accidents than adults. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, one million children each year suffer concussions. More than 30,000 incur long-term disabilities as a result of the traumatic brain injury.

The most common serious head injuries in young children are caused by falls and abuse (inflicted head injuries).

Shaken baby syndrome is thought to occur when a baby is violently shaken, thrown, or slammed, causing the baby's head to move forward and backward rapidly. This movement causes the brain to hit the sides of the skull forcefully, leading to bleeding in the eyes and injury and bleeding in the brain. Brain injury and bleeding can cause increased pressure in the brain. Increased pressure in the brain can lead to serious, permanent brain damage. Babies who have trouble breathing or who stop breathing during an episode of being shaken, thrown, or slammed may have more brain damage.

Among people who are 15 to 24 years old, sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of traumatic brain injury.

The resulting “brain drain” in any of these cases is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The brain is beautiful, the new frontier of science. But the brain is also vulnerable. It’s
fragile, gel-like consistency floats unattached inside the skull. When force is applied, the brain sloshes from side to side, end to end, almost like scrambling the yolk of an egg as it floats inside, without breaking its shell.

The consequences from concussions and undiagnosed brain injuries can be life-altering. It’s a mystery that science is still unraveling. But it’s not something to ignore in your everyday life.

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