As the number of concussions increases, so does prevention awareness
By Miriam Alghothani, ’15 and Becina Ganther, ’16
A loud thump. A blur of color. Plastic smashes into plastic as another player’s shoulder pad collides with senior Davis Robeson’s helmet. Robeson had been going down for a tackle during a return drill at football practice. Immediately after the impact, he struggled to regain balance.
“The rest of the practice sort of felt like a distant dream,” Robeson said. “It was like an out-of-body experience.”
Robeson recognized this feeling as a symptom of a concussion, as this was not the first time he had experienced one. In fact, this incident marked his fourth concussion throughout his athletic career.
Concussions are not a rare occurrence for Robeson or other athletes in numerous sports. According to Sports Concussion Institute, 1.6-3.8 million concussions occur each year, many of which are unnoticed or unreported. At UAHS, one in four students have suffered concussions, according to a voluntary survey.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused from a bump, blow or jolt to the head, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the head and brain move rapidly back and forth, the normal function of the brain is interrupted.
While anyone can suffer a concussion, athletes who play contact sports are at a greater risk. According to Prevacus, a concussion treatment association, the likelihood for an athlete in a contact sport to experience a concussion is as high as 20 percent per season.
While some may think that concussions are mostly an issue for male athletes, this is not the case. In fact, according to Cleared to Play, a concussion testing organization, female high school soccer athletes suffer a total of 29,000 concussions per year, almost 40 percent more concussions than male soccer athletes. Additionally, female high school basketball athletes suffer a total of 13,000 concussions per year, which is 240 percent more concussions than male basketball athletes.
While concussion frequency is a problem for athletes, the symptoms can lead to other issues as well. Robeson’s symptoms worsened with each injury. His most recent one was characterized by memory loss and a nauseating feeling.
Sophomore Destiny Froehlich experienced similar symptoms after a pole fell on her head during volleyball practice.
“[The next day] I was walking around the hallway when someone found me and walked me to the nurse,” Froehlich said. “I was very dazed and forgot what class I was going to.”
According to Cleared to Play, 15.8 percent of football players who sustain a concussion severe enough to cause loss of consciousness return to play the same day.
Robeson sustained the blow and continued to play for a couple more drills. But once he mentioned his symptoms to his coach, he was quickly taken out of the formation.
Immediately following, head football coach Joel Cutler sent Robeson to the UAHS training staff to evaluate the injury.
“We’re very fortunate here to have a great network with The Ohio State University and their training and medical staff that come through here,” Cutler said. “So I send [injured athletes] directly to our training staff for them to evaluate and follow the protocol.”
Cutler strives to ensure safety in his players by “removing athletes that exhibit any signs of head injury and waiting for them to clear the protocol before they return to play.”
After the trainer’s evaluation, Robeson met with a neuropsychologist at OSU to discuss appropriate treatment. No medicine was necessary; however, rest was vital to ensure a proper healing process. To limit mental concentration, Robeson left each class five minutes earlier for a week.
“There would be no concern of having any long term damage,” Robeson explained. “However, if I were to sustain another concussion, I’d be out indefinitely.”
Senior Alec Radcliffe, who has suffered five concussion while playing baseball, also received medical attention following his injury.
“I have a doctor specifically for concussions because I’ve had so many,” Radcliffe said. “I was told to relax, not think too much, not go to school and stay in a dark room.”
Even intensive treatment cannot reverse all the effects of suffering a concussion. Robeson struggled mentally with trying to feel normal and continue his life prior to his brain injury.
“Immediately after, for the first week or two, I could definitely feel that I wasn’t quite there. Mentally foggy is a good way to describe it. I just felt slow compared to my usual self,” Robeson said. “But as time wore on, I could feel myself kind of getting back in the swing of things and being comfortable with being in my classes once again.”
Radcliffe’s concussion was not as recent as Robeson’s, but he is still suffering from certain symptoms of his injury.
“I have memory loss and headaches; I get a pretty bad headache everyday towards the end of the day,” Radcliff said. “[There is also] short term memory loss—I’m slower to remember.”
While the headaches are painful, Radcliff is no longer allowed to regularly take medications for them because he developed an addiction to Advil.
The effects of his concussion extend beyond just headaches; Radcliff realizes that his injury may impact the rest of his life, including his academics.
“[This will affect] my future in schoolwork,” Radcliff said. “In college, I’m going to have to plan a little earlier and be more organized so I will not forget.”
According to the CDC, long term effects include memory problems, intense anger, personality changes and lack of concentration.
These effects are experienced not only in the classroom, but also on the field. For athletes who return to play even after being fully treated for their concussions, there is a higher risk of suffering another concussion. According to Prevacus, once an athlete has suffered an initial concussion, his or her chances of undergoing a second are three to six times greater than an athlete who has never sustained one.
This was the case for Robeson, who has suffered four concussions, and Froehlich, who has suffered two.
Cutler has noticed that in the past five years, the treatment of concussions has improved dramatically. The recent state law implemented in April 2013 prohibits an athlete from returning to play until there are no signs of symptoms.
“Coaches, athletes and athletic trainers may not always like [the new laws], but we have to do what’s best for the kid,” Cutler said.
The most difficult part for players is waiting to play again.
“Athletes want to get back to play because they feel okay, but [coaches] aren’t going to let them back because we have to follow the protocol,” Cutler said. “The athletes have to pass a conditioning test before they even touch a piece of equipment because their long term health is a priority.”
Football is not the only sport in which athletes may sustain a brain injury. As a collision sport, football has a bad reputation; however, other sports such as soccer and water polo also have four to five concussed athletes per season, according to Cutler.
While the coaching and training staff attempt to prevent brain injuries by following all safety rules and proper technique, the CDC has also set means of prevention. Wearing protective equipment, practicing good sportsmanship and refraining from playing until a suspected concussion has been evaluated are suggestions of the CDC.
However, even careful athletes who follow all safety procedures can still experience brain injuries. After suffering four concussions, Robeson has gained insight on recognizing the symptoms and getting immediate help.
“Be smart about it; stay on the side of caution. If you think you’ve sustained a brain injury, don’t hesitate to tell a coach,” Robeson said. “The worst thing to do is not let anyone know what you’re struggling through because a brain injury affects everyone differently.”
Robeson’s most recent concussion led him to discuss continuing football with Cutler.
“What he told me was music to my ears, in a sense that he offered me a situation where I could continue playing if I wanted to,” Robeson said. “If I didn’t want to continue playing, he would support me a thousand times over, ultimately wanting the best for me.”
Robeson sought a future beyond football, looking to enjoy other aspects of life.
“I decided not to keep playing football,” Robeson said. “[I’d] rather focus on my academic future, playing college baseball and enjoying my senior year.”
Photo illustration by Sasha Dubson
Image Courtesy of Cleared to Play