By Nathaniel Franley, MD
Medical Director of ACMC Sports Medicine
Fall is upon us. That means changing of leaves, cooler weather, and of course constant football again. With September 16, being National Concussion Awareness Day, it is a good time to focus on the care of athletes and others with head injuries. Football is not the only sports that can increase risk of concussion - all contact sports carry that risk, as well as driving a vehicle or doing projects around the home. We should also be careful around the workplace.
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head. It doesn’t have to be a hard hit to cause a concussion. Here are a couple of keys to remember:
Know the symptoms to recognize a concussion. The most common symptoms include headache, nausea, photophobia and phonophobia (trouble with bright lights and noises), neck pain, dizziness, and feeling tired or off balance. Some of these symptoms might not be apparent for the first hour, especially if the adrenalin is high from a sporting event or traumatic event. It is important to monitor for symptoms after an injury because earlier treatment leads to faster recovery.
Treatment of concussions focuses on managing symptoms. I tell my patients and athletes to use their symptoms as their guide. For the first day or two it is important to cut out stressful activities, to avoid participating in sports, work, or extra-curricular activities, and to get good rest. Avoidance of TV and digital screen time can also be helpful. We boil the initial recover down to simply focusing on rest and sleep. Broken sleep can impair healing. Once symptoms are improved, adding back activities like light walking can safely be done, if symptoms allow. It is important to work with your healthcare provider on a safe return to play or work strategy. I am aggressive about returning athletes and workers to their regular activities as soon as possible. We use newer guidelines to allow sooner (and hopefully safer) return to activities than the old days.
Some other quick tips:
- Parents or caregivers should not wake someone with a concussion at night to check on them. Instead, I recommend that you let them sleep - it is more helpful for their recovery.
- Avoidance of the use of over-the-counter pain medication unless it is taken before a nap or before bedtime to help sleep. These medications can mask symptoms and cause someone to try to push through their symptoms, making the concussion worse and last longer.
- Wear sunglasses initially to cut down on exposure to bright lights.
- Wait to transition to activities again only when close to being symptom-free. Do not push through or ignore symptoms. That can make things worse and actually delay recovery.
Finally, don’t let fear of injury keep us from enjoying our autumn activities. The countless benefits of exercise far outweigh the risk of injuries in most cases.
Dr. Franley is Medical Director of ACMC Sports Medicine, overseeing athletic trainers at Edgewood, Lakeside, and St. John. He sees patients at Ashtabula Family Health Center, 2259 Lake Ave. To schedule an appointment with him, please call 440-997-6969.