A Mild Concussion?

If you take a look back to a number of NFL games throughout the past few decades, you’re bound to run into a moment during the game where a player takes an extremely hard hit that stops play. The player is then taken off the field and evaluated. One of the biggest difference you’ll notice between older games, and games played in the last five years is the term “mild concussion.” 

It was common in the past to see a player taken out of play, only to return later in the game with what the announcers termed a mild concussion. As we learn more and more about the issue, it would seem that this term is a huge oxymoron. 

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a complex pathophysiological process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces. As a result of the impact, the head and brain move rapidly back and forth. The bumping or twisting of the brain can damage cells which release chemicals that make the brain more sensitive to any increased strain or injuries. It’s important to note from that definition, that it’s not only an impact to the head, but impacts to the body can also cause a concussion. Also important to keep in mind, although loss of consciousness is often times associated with a concussion, it is not present in all cases. 

Diagnosis typically includes the following: Somatic issues like headache, cognitive issues like mental fog, emotional symptoms, loss of consciousness, amnesia, behavioral changes, cognitive impairment and drowsiness. If any of these symptoms are present, a concussion should be suspected. 

Concussions in Youth Sports

Approximately 38 million children and adolescents participate in organized sports in the United States. Of that number, an estimated 1.7-3 million athletes will sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). There are an even greater number of concussions that go undetected by coaches, athletic trainers and sports medicine professionals.

There is a great danger in letting an athlete return to play after a concussion. We know that second impact injuries are much more damaging to the body than the initial concussive injury. For this reason, if concussion is suspected, the athlete needs to be completely removed from play. In children especially, brain swelling can occur rapidly and create life-threatening situations.

How to Prevent Concussions

It’s reasonable to think that simply adding more protection to a helmet would lead to a decrease in concussions. The issue is not that simple however. As we already mentioned, impact to the body, or any rapid acceleration/deceleration can still lead to twisting or excessive forward/backward movement of the brain. So what should we do?

Research is showing that women report higher rates of concussion for the same activities than their male counterparts. The reason for this is unclear, but one theory is that women are more susceptible to rotational or twisting forces due to the muscular and structural differences between men and women. It would stand to reason that head and neck strength at vitally important to the recovery process.

As a structural chiropractor, in working with athletes with a history of concussion, I focus in on the underlying structural integrity of the neck. If there is damage to the foundational segments of the spine, particularly where the head meets the neck, it can lead to a myriad of symptoms and also delay the healing process. While traditional chiropractic manipulation may be beneficial, one must also take into account the soft tissue and neurological aspects of the recovery process.

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