June is Brain Injury Awareness month in Canada. One pressing topic surrounding the amount of concussions resulting from playing high impact sports. This has finally become more mainstream as players are noticing lingering effects after their playing days. There is still a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit brought by former NHL players over concussion-related injuries.
What happens to the brain during a Concussion?
The adult brain is a three pound organ that basically floats inside the skull. It is surrounded by cerebral spinal fluid, which acts as a shock absorber for minor impacts. When the brain moves rapidly inside the skull, a concussion has technically occurred. One common scenario that can lead to a concussion is a direct blow to the head or a whiplash effect to the body.
The impact rapidly accelerates the head, causing the brain to strike the inner skull (i.e., the coup). When the head decelerates and stops its motion, the brain then hits the opposite side of the inner skull (i.e., the contrecoup). The second common scenario is a rotational concussion, in which the head rapidly rotates from one side to another causing shearing and straining of brain tissues. In either case, delicate neural pathways in the brain can become damaged, causing neurological disturbances.
How do you determine that an athlete is OK to Return to Play?
Various factors contribute to the decision of returning an athlete to play after sustaining a concussion. With computerized neuropsychological testing procedures acting as the "cornerstone for concussion management", patients will be administered an additional battery of tests that assess cognitive and neurobehavioral function.
Additionally, they will undergo vestibular balance testing which has been shown to be an effective, empirically driven approach to managing concussions. After a comprehensive interview, a full assessment of patient symptoms will take place. Because of the complex nature of concussions, a multi-factorial, multi-disciplinary approach must be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the patient, and only after all these factors indicate that the athlete can safely participate in their sport will he or she be cleared to return to play.
Beyond pro-sports, it's important for all of us to be aware of brain injuries and work toward preventing them.
If you or a family member are injured in an accident, get the support you need immediately.