Concussion is a common injury that most often occurs in motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries and falls. Concussion is a form of brain injury induced by direct physical trauma to the brain, which results in an impairment of neurological function, usually short-lived. A blow to the head is not the only possible source of concussion: an impact to the neck or torso that causes a forceful and rapid movement of the head can also cause a concussion.
Increasingly, studies of concussions resulting from sports injury have revealed that these injuries are extremely common but should nevertheless be taken very seriously. Further, anyone who suffers a concussion during play should be immediately removed from the activity and medically assessed as soon as possible. The injured person should also refrain from cognitive and physical interactions to allow their brain to rest, for a time recommended by their physician.
The Canadian Paediatric Society has studied concussion injuries in children and youths and recommends that coaches and others working with children in sports should be trained to recognize the signs of concussion (Sports-related Concussion: Evaluation and Management, Mar 3, 2014). Early recognition facilitates ensuring that any child or youth suspected of having a concussion is properly evaluated and receives the necessary treatment to reduce further injury and optimize their recovery.
The Canadian Paediatric Society has identified the following signs and symptoms of sports-induced concussions.
- Nausea, dizziness and/or vomiting
- Disturbances in vision
- Poor co-ordination or loss of balance
- Loss of consciousness
- Extreme sensitivity to loud noises and/or light
- Decreased playing ability
- Extreme moodiness
- Inappropriate behaviours
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia, sleeping too much, drowsiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slowed reaction times
- Memory problems
- Feeling confused or dazed
Athletes who return to play while still suffering some of the symptoms of concussion, such as difficulty concentrating, are at a higher risk of incurring another concussion. Also, multiple concussions significantly increase the risk of catastrophic brain injury leading to permanent neurological disability.
Symptoms of a concussion may worsen in the hours or days after the injury occurred. Immediate medical diagnosis (including neurological and cognitive assessment) is vital, and both children and adults who appear to have suffered a concussion should be closely monitoring in the days following their accident. Some of the symptoms to watch for include severe headaches, seizures and persistent vomiting. A physician assessing someone for concussion should be made aware whether the injured person had a previous head injury, a history of headaches, difficulty sleeping, mental health issues, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities, as these conditions increase the risk that recovery is prolonged.
Participants in many types of sports, particularly high-impact sports, must expect a certain element of risk involved in the normal actions of play. However, sometimes injuries result from reckless or negligent actions, including rule-breaking behaviour. In such cases, the injured person may be entitled to compensation from the person responsible for their injury.
One of the most publicized sports-related injuries in recent years involves a hit from behind on hockey player, Steve Moore, during a Colorado Avalanche-Vancouver Canucks game in March 2004. Mr. Moore, then a rookie player, suffered a head injury which he alleged resulted in a permanent cognitive impairment, preventing him from continuing his NHL career after only 69 games. In his suit against the Canucks and Bertuzzi (the player who injured Moore), Moore v. Bertuzzi, 2012, Mr. Moore submitted that he suffered post-concussion syndrome, involving the following symptoms: headaches, difficulty concentrating and focusing, memory problems, slower processing of information, irritability, and decreased physical and mental energy.
Mr. Moore sought $68 million in damages, which includes $38 million in loss of income for his hockey wages, punitive and compensatory damages, as well as a proposed $30 loss of income for his post-hockey career based on his Harvard University degree. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Any concussion, due to a sports accident or another event, should never be taken likely. If left undiagnosed, concussions can lead to long-term brain damage and even death. Although concussion is classified as a mild brain injury, concussion symptoms, such headaches and personality changes, can persistent and have permanent effects on the injured person’s life. If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered a concussion, seek medical attention immediately.