Concussions recently became a popular topic after Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released studies that suggest 96 percent of NFL players suffer from brain diseases, cognitive impairments and involuntary movements caused by head trauma.
The researchers also studied cadavers of football players who once played on high school, college and professional teams. 79 percent of the sampled brains tested positive for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries.
At the time of injury, these permanent brain damages could have been reduced. That is why coaches, athletic trainers and football players must promptly implement appropriate concussion treatment and diagnostic actions.
Likewise, all athletes should take extra safety precautions whenever head injuries occur so that early intervention can prevent chronic neurological damage. Learn about the physiological impacts, standard testing and the concussion treatment that helps.
Physiological impacts of concussions
Edward Marcheschi, MD, a Mercy Health Primary Care Sports Medicine specialist, explained the internal effects of concussions:
“The brain floats inside the skull. When the head takes a hard hit or is violently jostled, the brain bounces back and forth off the skull,” said Dr. Marcheschi. “This may mechanically stretch nerve fibers abnormally, triggering a chemical reaction in the brain at a cellular level.”
Standard tests for concussions
- Baseline – Baseline testing is recommended for all athletes, especially those in contact sports, who are ages 10 or older. A computer-based program called ImPACT administers a series of neuropsychological tests. It then creates a baseline of the athlete’s average brain functioning levels. The test is re-administered sbortly after the event of a head injury, and results are compared to the ImPACT baseline to determine the concussion’s severity. “By comparing new results against the baseline, physicians can predict recovery time and monitor recovery,” said Dr. Marcheschi. Mercy Health offers ImPACT testing for concussions and other head injuries at our partner schools.
- Observation – Coaches, athletic trainers and athletes can begin this test by checking for common physical symptoms. These include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, memory impairment, balance issues, unequal pupil sizes, slurred speech, drowsiness and brief loss of consciousness after the injury. Abnormal moods or abrupt emotional changes can also indicate a possible concussion. If these symptoms are present, contact a Mercy Health physician for consultation.
- Cognitive – Athletic trainers or doctors may check the athletes’ thinking skills by asking questions related to memory, concentration and information recall.
- Neurological – In a neurological assessment, a doctor will check an athlete for difficulties with balance, coordination, reflexes, touch, hearing and vision.
- Brain Imaging – This internal test is administered to people with severe or persisting symptoms, and it can be completed with two instruments. The first tool is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain. The second, and most common, instrument is the cranial computerized tomography (CT) scan. CT scans use X-rays to construct snapshots of the brain and skull.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) – This electrical impulse test is computerized, and wired electrodes are attached to the athlete’s scalp. The electrodes send brain signals to the computer, which records the brain wave frequencies on a graph that appears in tiny zig-zags.
“The good news is that the ill effects of concussion will resolve in most athletes if the injury is managed appropriately. Rest, both physical and mental, is recommended treatment for concussions early on,” said Dr. Marcheschi. “A student athlete diagnosed with a concussion should avoid physical exertion and decrease mental concentration by limiting sensory input by refraining from using computers, texting, watching TV and playing video games.”
For more information about concussion diagnostics and symptoms, visit the Mercy Health website or call 513-956-3729 to find a sports medicine physician near you.