March kicks off the beginning of spring and is also National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Warmer temperatures mean tree blossoms, green grass and a full array of high school spring athletic programs. While high school sports give young athletes opportunities to shine, they also bring opportunities for head injuries.
“I’ve seen a least one concussion with every sport at the school,” said Melissa Mendini, an Intermountain-employed, certified athletic trainer at Cedar High School. “The highest incidence of concussion is found in contact sports such as football, wrestling and soccer, but it also occurs in cheerleading, track, tennis and baseball.”
Concussion, also scientifically referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is the result of a jolt or blow to the head strong enough to cause physical, cognitive and/or emotional symptoms. Occasionally concussion may cause short-term unconsciousness. It is the most common, and usually the least serious, type of brain injury. Complications and further brain injury may arise with repeated concussions.
“Concussion symptoms are subtle and sometimes difficult for an untrained eye to see,” said Mendini. “Every Washington and Iron county high school has an Intermountain athletic trainer who attends all games and practices. Athletic trainers are around the athletes all the time. They get to know them personally, and it is easier to recognize concussion symptoms especially when it affects personality.”
Common concussion symptoms may include: headache, dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision, irritability, vomiting, extreme emotions, balance issues, difficulty concentrating and a general sense of not feeling right. Most of these symptoms, aside from a few more obvious ones, need to be self-reported by the athlete. This is why athlete and parent education about MTBI is essential and routinely given by in-school athletic trainers.
“Anytime that concussion is even suspected,athletes are immediately taken out of play,” Mendini said. “Athletes with concussion are at risk for further concussion and worsening symptoms should they remain in the game. No game is worth a child’s health.”
Rest is the true treatment for concussion. Mendini also recommends eating well and staying hydrated to ensure proper nutrients for healing. Cognitive rest, or reducing activities that require concentration, is also an important part of the healing process.
“Athletes with concussion need to rest physically and mentally,” Mendini said. “Rest includes staying away from video games, TV, computers, texting, and even homework, as these activities may exasperate symptoms.”
With proper rest, concussion or MTBI symptoms usually subside in a few days or weeks. When all symptoms are gone, an athletic trainer will then allow the athlete to resume practice and game play. Athletic trainers have expert concussion training and will also refer athletes to other medical professionals if symptoms deteriorate.
“Proper-fitting, newer, sport-specific headgear really does help prevent head injury,” Mendini said. “Helmets should be routinely inspected for cracks or signs of excessive wear and replaced as necessary. As always, following the rules of play and using good sportsmanship also help prevent concussion and other injuries.”
Certified athletic trainers are positioned in every high school throughout southern Utah to assist and improve the health and wellness of high school athletes. Athletic trainers also support and treat common sports injuries such as concussion. Having certified athletic trainers in each high school is a win-win situation for schools, athletes, and parents.
This LiVe Well column represents collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of our not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and The Spectrum. Contact 435-251-2108 for information.