It’s Not ‘Just’ a Concussion: Sport-Related Brain Injuries Require Treatment

December 4, 2020

Millions of people experience traumatic brain injuries each year, but too often, the seriousness of the injury is overlooked. This is particularly true if the injury is sustained during one of the most common pastimes around: sports.

How Many People Experience Brain Injuries?

An estimated 1.7 million to 3.8 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While 10 percent of those injuries, overall, come from sports or other recreational activities, children and teenagers who sustain traumatic brain injuries are more likely to have suffered the injury while playing a sport. More than 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among U.S. children and teens are attributed to sports and other recreational activities.

Injuries can range from mild, such as a contusion or cut to the scalp, to more severe injuries such as bleeding in the brain or even loss of consciousness. It is critical to seek immediate medical care for head trauma. Although many brain injuries can be resolved in a short period of time, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) points out that research is showing that repeated “minor” injuries can have long-term consequences.

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a brain injury that may come from a blow or jolt to the head or from an object penetrating the brain tissue, disrupting the brain’s regular function. A sudden and violent hit to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury, with symptoms ranging from mild to moderate or severe. If the injury is mild, a person may have a brief change in mental state or loss of consciousness. A more severe injury may cause a prolonged period of unconsciousness, coma, or even death.

What Are the Symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury?

When evaluating whether a person has sustained a traumatic brain injury, AANS says to be alert for these symptoms:

  • Pain: Constant or recurring headache
  • Balance Disturbance or Motor Dysfunction: Inability to control or coordinate motor functions
  • Sensory: Changes in ability to hear, taste or see; dizziness, hypersensitivity to light or sound
  • Cognitive: Agitation, confusion, shortened attention span; easily distracted; overstimulated by environment; difficulty following directions or understanding information; feeling of disorientation and confusion and other neuropsychological deficiencies
  • Speech: Difficulty finding the “right” word; difficulty expressing words or thoughts; dysarthria or slurred speech.

What Is a Sport-Related Concussion?

As many parents and coaches are aware, concussions are a growing concern in the sports world, in both contact and noncontact sports. But what exactly is a sport-related concussion? The 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport arrived at this definition: “Sport-related concussion is the historical term representing low velocity injuries that cause brain ‘shaking’ resulting in clinical symptoms and that are not necessarily related to a pathological injury.”

Concussions typically are considered a subset of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). According to AANS, they may be characterized by the following attributes.

  • A sport-related concussion may be caused by a direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body with an “impulsive” force transmitted to the head.
  • Sport-related concussion typically results in rapid onset of short-lived impairment of neurological function that resolves spontaneously. In some cases, however, symptoms can appear over several minutes to hours.
  • Sport-related concussion may result in neuropathological changes, but the acute clinical symptoms largely reflect a functional disturbance rather than a structural injury and, as such, no abnormality is seen on standard structural neuroimaging studies.
  • Sport-related concussion results in a range of clinical symptoms that may or may not involve loss of consciousness. Resolution of the clinical and cognitive symptoms typically follows a sequential course, although not always. It is important to note that in some cases symptoms may be prolonged.

Grading a concussion can be a helpful tool in managing the injury. A concussion may be graded by evaluating the:

  • Presence or absence of loss of consciousness,
  • Duration of loss of consciousness,
  • Duration of post-traumatic memory loss, and
  • Persistence of symptoms, including headache, dizziness, lack of concentration.

Anyone with signs or symptoms of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury should receive medical attention as soon as possible.

How Many Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries Occur Each Year?

According to the CDC, an estimated 283,000 children under the age of 18 seek care in U.S. emergency departments each year for a sports- or recreation-related traumatic brain injury. Injuries sustained in contact sports account for about 45 percent of these visits. Football, bicycling, basketball, playground activities, and soccer account for the highest number of emergency department visits.

A study released in 2019 analyzed the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries among children as part of an effort to understand and reduce the number of injuries. The CDC analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–All Injury Program by examining emergency department visits from 2010 to 2016.

Researchers then estimated the average annual number of emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries in children younger than 18, broken down by type of activity. The top findings were:

  1. Football: 53,657
  2. Basketball: 29,675
  3. Playground Activities: 27,350
  4. Bicycling: 25,955
  5. Soccer: 23,847
  6. Baseball: 14,208
  7. Field Hockey/Ice Hockey: 8,110
  8. Gymnastics: 8,008
  9. Skateboarding: 6,857
  10. Boxing/Wrestling/Martial Arts/Fencing: 6,798
  11. Swimming: 6,796
  12. Scooter riding: 5,711
  13. Softball: 5,675
  14. Lacrosse/Rugby/Handball: 4,877
  15. ATV riding: 4,702

To keep up-to-date on the latest research, visit the Sport Concussion Library, a nonprofit, no-fee, publically accessible storehouse of noncommercial, peer-reviewed literature on sport concussion.

How to Treat a Sport-Related Brain Injury

Brain injuries – even a so-called “mild” concussion – can have long-lasting effects. It is vital that anyone who sustains a sport-related head injury receive medical treatment as quickly as possible.

New Vitae Wellness and Recovery offers supports for those who have experienced brain injuries or other long-term diagnoses, providing specialized treatment through our Action Recovery: Brain Injury Services. New Vitae has been assisting individuals who have been diagnosed with brain injuries for more than 30 years, with clinical services designed to meet the needs of individuals, family members, and allies. Our team includes:

  • Medical Director
  • Psychiatrists
  • Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Staff
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Cognitive Therapists
  • Certified Brain Injury Specialists
  • Rehabilitation Technicians
  • Behavior Specialists
  • Licensed Behavioral Health Psychotherapists

Using a holistic approach, New Vitae integrates individual and group therapy, case management services, mentoring, and other individual supports for complete care. Beginning with a thorough assessment during the intake process, skilled and caring staff will examine the person’s strengths, needs and goals. Then, a recovery team will work closely with the individual and family members to create a personalized daily routine and schedule that takes into account medical, cognitive, vocational and psychological challenges.

New Vitae’s Action Recovery Services have been recognized by the Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists Alliance. New Vitae serves our communities by promoting hope, health and wellness, every day. Learn how our services can help individuals who have sustained a sport-related traumatic brain injury and call us today at 610.965.9021.


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