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Concussions: Myth vs. fact

We hear a lot about concussions these days, and the potentially devastating long-term effects. But just what is a concussion? And is there anything we can do to lessen the odds of getting one?

Concussion 101

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Concussions are on the mild end of the traumatic brain injury scale, commonly present multiple symptoms, and the effects are usually temporary. 

When diagnosing, doctors look at about 30 different indicators of concussion, such as headache, nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and a decrease in cognitive function. If you hit your head and just have a headache with no other symptoms, you probably don't have a concussion. Concussion is typically diagnosed through an evaluation of signs, symptoms and functional testing, rather than a CT scan.

The majority of concussions are a result of sports injuries and falls. Most sports-related concussions occur in collision sports such as football or hockey, or from head-to-head contact as in soccer. But concussions can also happen in non-contact sports like gymnastics.

Concussion prevention myths and facts

Concussions are treated differently now than they were 20 years ago. We know more about the long-term effects, and are better at recognizing and evaluating head injuries. But what can we do to prevent a concussion? 

Wearing a helmet helps protect your head from severe injuries such as skull fractures and brain contusions. They significantly decrease linear—direct—impact, but aren't as effective in a rotational or glancing hit where your head turns. That's why helmets can't guarantee against concussion.

Mouth guards have been touted as protection against concussion. While mouth guards protect against oral injuries, research does not demonstrate mouth guards protect against concussion.

A newer product, that looks similar to a sweatband, is being sold as protective headgear. The headgear may decrease injury if there is a direct hit to the device, but it doesn't protect the whole head and offers little protection from rotational hits.    

How to protect yourself and your kids

While no piece of equipment completely protects against concussion, there are some precautions you can take to lessen the chance of injury to you or your kids.

  • Wear a properly-fitting helmet if participating in an activity where there is the possibility of head trauma.
  • Make sure your kids' coaches are teaching today's better, safer techniques. Kids should learn the proper way to tackle or check, and never lead with their head.

Remember that with kids, size matters. A younger player shouldn't play up in a sport if they are too small to compete safely.  


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