The horror of concussions

With the help of crutches, a knee brace and enough rehabilitation, you’ll bounce back from a torn ACL.

With a cast on for four to six weeks, you can get over your broken arm. But what treatments are available for concussions?

You look and even feel fine at times. There may not be an x-ray to tell you how bad the injury is, but inside your skull are damaged brain cells and chemical imbalances over which you have no control. There is no predicted time frame for when you will recover – if you recover at all.

Robbie Baxter, a fifth-year biochemistry-commerce double major and member of the Mount Allison football team, suffered a concussion during training camp this year.

“I was going to block a guy, I was slightly out of position and tried to get my head across his body, and his shoulder went right to the side of my head. Next thing I knew, everything was just spinning. I felt super dizzy and out of it…The symptoms lasted three to four weeks. I just felt super foggy. Nothing felt clear. I felt almost like I was watching everything happen instead of actually living it,” Baxter said.

Although this was his first diagnosed concussion, Baxter does not believe this is his first.

“I’ve had one diagnosed concussion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a couple of other minor ones that only lasted a week or two and that I didn’t really think about, especially in high school,” Baxter said.

Hannah Beland, a first-year sociology student on the women’s basketball team, also has a history of concussions. “After my second concussion, my symptoms were way worse than the first one. They lasted more than a month and a half. I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t even be in class – it was pretty bad,” Beland said.

Concussions were hardly talked about 20 years ago, but have since  become a major issue and concern in sports, causing long-term damage to athletes’ brains and mental health.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next 10 to 20 years, someone developed technology to grade the severity of a concussion,” Baxter said. “It’s not like a sprain, there’s no grade one, two or three. I think the next step is diagnosing them better.”

Concussions can result in bruising and swelling of the brain. izzy Francolini/Argosy
Concussions can result in bruising and swelling of the brain. izzy Francolini/Argosy

Approximately five to 10 per cent of athletes will experience a concussion, according to the Sports Concussion Institute. Collision sports, including football, rugby and hockey, are more likely to cause concussions, yet other sports like basketball and soccer are seeing an annual increase in the number of concussions.

Kiersten Mangold, a member of the Mt. A women’s basketball team and recipient of the 2015-16 ACAA rookie of the year award, talked about a concussion she experienced in 12th grade.

“It was a really bad headache, just kind of foggy. I wasn’t able to focus on things for a while. I felt a lot more sensitive to stimulation like noise and light for two weeks or so,” Mangold said.

Mangold discussed how the road to recovery was difficult and took longer than expected. “You need to really take your time with it. Take things in smaller steps, and expose yourself to little bits at a time.”

Repeat concussions are dangerous and often occur when a player returns to sport before having fully healed and properly rested. Decisions to return prematurely are often caused by pressure from teammates, coaches and even some students’ parents, who are paying for their athletic experience. Also, in most cases, injured players do just want to get back out there and play. The problem is, once someone gets a concussion, they are twice as likely to get another. After two, they become even more prone to a third.

The scariest thing about concussions is that a “full recovery” is often not possible. When does a player call it quits after suffering too many concussions? Is sport their hobby, or are they pushing to make it a career? Is it worth compromising one’s long-term health and quality of life?  The true horror of concussions is how damaging they can be to what matters most – your brain.

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