A knock to the head can be more than painful – symptoms can persist for days and weeks.
Concussion can occur during contact sports, after a fall, or after a “whiplash” – when the brain ‘headbutts’ the skull.
Dr Audrey McKinlay at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences says that, “while the term concussion is used extensively in the sporting world, it’s diagnosis and symptoms are exactly the same as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). mTBI is a common term in research and in medical circles, especially outside of the sporting industry. Unfortunately, the public is often confused by these terms and some in the sporting world tend to downplay concussion, suggesting that it’s less than mTBI.” This confusion can lead to complacency, with those administering care not taking the likelihood of concussion seriously enough. Anyone who watches the NRL will see how seriously the professionals deal with concussion.
The signs and symptoms of concussion are multiple. Someone who is suspected of suffering from a concussion could exhibit confusion and disorientation (that may be slight at first), incoherent or slurred speech, memory loss, and even loss of consciousness. Following a concussion, vomiting, headaches, dizziness and increased sensitivity to light are all serious symptoms.
The mantra for treatment following a concussion is ‘if in doubt, sit it out’. If someone has any ongoing symptoms they should see a doctor. Seek urgent medical advice if someone who has been concussed begins vomiting, experiences severe or ongoing headaches, numbness, blackouts, dizziness, or a seizure.
So, if you have any suspicion that somebody has suffered a concussion you should seek the advice of a trained person who can apply the protocol, conduct the appropriate tests, monitor the person’s progress and call for further assistance if necessary.
AFL player Paddy McCartin has suffered multiple concussions over several years and is still struggling with ongoing issues like severe headaches, short-term memory loss and sound sensitivity. For him, concussion is now a long-term injury that affects his ability to perform basic daily tasks. There is no time frame on his return to the football field.
Children can be especially vulnerable to brain injury because of their weaker neck and torso strength. It takes less force to cause concussion in a child.
Kids and teenagers have historically been undiagnosed and rushed back out onto the sporting field. It is now strongly recommended they do not do this and have a period of 24–48 hours of rest and a managed return to physical activity.
Dr McKinlay says that, “young people (newborn to age five) may not have the words to describe and report the symptoms they are experiencing. Younger people in general rely on parents to identify symptoms and report to the attending clinician. In terms of actual symptoms, younger people may have symptoms that are misidentified i.e. being more sleepy or irritable, or clinginess that could be teething, or for school age children, being over tired or naughty.”
McKinlay says, “the age of the child at injury may also affect the long-term outcome. Children injured in the early years (0-5) seem to be more likely to have an adverse outcome compared to children suffering the same level of injury at an older age.”
While typical concussion symptoms can pass quickly in children, moodiness and restlessness can last much longer. A harm reduction approach, with total rest, is now regarded as the best practice for treating concussion in youth.
Concussion, or mTBI, should be taken seriously given the lasting effects it can have. All medical advice should be followed after any concussion.