Brain Injuries Pose Risk to Athletes

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Koester

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and this year's focus is on concussion in sports. Concussion is often called the "silent injury," because its effects cannot be seen. The casual observer cannot tell that a sullen, withdrawn teen was once a vibrant and smiling girl prior to her concussion while playing soccer. You don't know that the young man next door now struggles with basic schoolwork after multiple concussions during last football season.

For many years concussions were described as "dings" or "bell-ringers" and usually thought to be minor injuries. In fact, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that interferes with the brain's normal function. Sadly, a small number of high school athletes die each year from catastrophic brain injuries. Thousands of additional athletes suffer nonfatal, but potentially disabling, brain injuries. These injuries garner very little attention, but may have dramatic long-term consequences.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 300,000 sports concussions occur among children and adolescents each year in the United States. Using the most conservative estimates, approximately 1,000 high school athletes in Oregon suffer at least one concussion each school year. While most of these youngsters recover within a few weeks, many suffer from memory problems, chronic headaches, difficulty concentrating and depression for months or even years.

The past decade has seen a revolution in the management of sports-related concussion. What was once considered a relatively benign condition is now recognized as a critical medical issue with distressing and potentially permanent consequences.

We have learned that adolescents recover more slowly and are more prone to further injury than college and professional athletes. We now know that an athlete doesn't have to be rendered unconscious to have suffered a concussion. In fact, only about 5 percent of all concussed athletes are "knocked out" at the time of injury. Research also indicates that young athletes who have a history of a previous concussion take longer to get better and may be three to six times more likely to sustain an additional concussion.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, recent studies confirm that concussions are not just "football injuries." New evidence suggests that girls playing soccer are not only more susceptible to concussions than their male counterparts, they also take longer to recover normal brain function after the injury. High school girls playing soccer sustain concussions at a rate 60 percent higher than boys. …