As the fall sports season gets into full swing around western Nevada County, medical experts want players, parents and coaches alike to keep something in mind — the brain.
Traumatic brain injuries in youth are a growing concern, such that a new state law requires high school athletes to be pulled out of a game if the player suffers a concussion. Although it seems like common sense, many people might not realize the signs, symptoms associated with a brain injury.
“It is often called ‘The Silent Epidemic’ because there is not usually a physical manifestation and so, the diagnosis is often missed,” wrote Cindy Shaw, a speech therapist at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
A traumatic brain injury is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Each year, 1.7 million people, including 475,000 children, sustain traumatic brain injuries. Of those, 75 percent are concussions — also known as mild brain injuries, according to the CDC.
In an active community where athletics, including contact sports such as football, are a big part of life, it’s important for participants and spectators to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
“If we’re not giving time for concussions to heal, there are potential long-term cognitive deficits,” said Dr. Michael Jensen of Mountain View Rehabilitation in Grass Valley.
That includes a person’s ability to stay attentive and concentrate and can result in headaches or an inability to do well in school, he said.
More than 90 percent of the sports-related concussions occur without the loss of consciousness, according to Safe Kids USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to injury prevention in children.
There are four main categories of symptoms that can develop: cognitive, physical, emotional and sleep, Jensen said.
“Our first priority at the high school district is the health and safety of our students. In collaboration with Dr. Jensen and Dr. Curtis we have designed a comprehensive head injury protocol that is being introduced throughout our district. We are working with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital to support the education of physicians, allied health providers and parents so that all of our youth are protected from traumatic brain injury,” said Karen L. Harris the public health nurse at Nevada Joint Union High School District.
If a player does receive a knock to the head, be aware whether they are dazed, confused or disoriented. That includes effects noticed long after the game has ended — irritability, anger, sadness, short-term memory loss and difficulties sleeping.
Although injuries do occur on sports fields, it’s possible to prevent long-term damage through proper diagnosis and treatment — a message being touted across the U.S. thanks to Zackery Lystedt.
Lystedt played middle-school football in Washington state. During the first half of a game, he sustained a knock to his head that caused him to sit out for 15 minutes. He returned to the game and subsequently received another blow during a big play, causing a brain hemorrhage that resulted in permanent damage and nearly cost him his life, according to www.sportsconcussions.org.
Lystedet and his family have since advocated for improved laws and awareness about sports concussions. California’s law was inspired in part by Washington state’s “Lystedt Law.”
Jenson, Shaw and others in Nevada County are rallying to improve identification of concussions both on and off the sports field. For more information about traumatic brain injuries, go to www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury. To learn more about resources available in this community, visit www.snmh.org.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.