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Dr. Shah's Winter Concussion Tips

Shah Scrubs SmallBy Nirav Shah, MD, FACS

Winter is here, and in many parts of America, it is proving to be one of the most "activity-friendly" winters in memory. Ski resorts have lots of snow, outdoor rinks are busy, and the lakes and streams are full of ice-fishing and snowmobiling enthusiasts.

In fact, each year millions of Americans get outside to enjoy winter sports and activities. Winter sports encourage activity and fitness, and many activities encourage the development of team-building skills along with competitive instincts.

Goaltenders Mask Concussions However, there is a potential downside to many winter sports…, concussions (traumatic brain injuries) are a potential risk of many enjoyable winter activities.

Many readers will recall the 2009 death of actress Natasha Richardson as a result of a fall while skiing. As I write this article, legendary Formula One driver Michael Schumacher is fighting for his life in a French hospital following a ski accident. In the case of Ms Richardson, she initially refused medical treatment as the initial head trauma did not seem to be severe.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. The sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist inside the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.

In most cases, recovery from a concussion takes only a couple of weeks, however in some cases the symptoms can linger for years. NHL hockey player Sydney Crosby missed a year as a result of a concussion. NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine’s hockey career was ended by concussions.

As should be apparent, a concussion (or having your "bell rung") is NOT a minor risk or event. What can you do? Make safety Number One. Although there is no such thing as 100% concussion-proof equipment, wearing properly fitted, and approved equipment can reduce your risk.

Always wear protective equipment. Naturally, this rule applies to games like hockey, but you should be wearing head protection even where it is not required by the rules.

If you’re out for an evening skate, wear a helmet. Even Olympic athletes fall, and wearing a helmet reduces the likelihood of a brain injury. Skiers should ALWAYS wear head protection. Not all falls take place on the double diamond hills.

Practise safe playing techniques, and encourage all participants to follow the rules of play. Enforce "no hit to the head" rules.

Insure that your children are properly equipped and wear their equipment. There is no protection offered by a ski helmet that gets left in the chalet because it doesn’t look cool.

In the event of a bump to the head, a fall, or a blow to the body, or if you suspect the possibility of a concussion, follow this 4 step plan of action.

1. Remove the athlete from play. Look for signs and symptoms of a concussion if your athlete has experienced a bump or blow to the head or body. When in doubt, keep the athlete out of play.

2. Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. Health care professionals have a number of methods that they can use to assess the severity of concussions.

3. Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians about the possible. Make sure they know that the athlete should be seen by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion.

4. Keep the athlete out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first—usually within a short period of time (hours, days, or weeks)—can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in edema (brain swelling), permanent brain damage, and even death.

Never take a possible concussion for granted. A concussion is a serious injury to the brain, Whenever a concussion is suspected, professional evaluation is required.

In summary, as a neurosurgeon, a doctor, and a father, I encourage you to be active, exercise, and take advantage of winter activities. However, you must take proper preventative measures to reduce the possibility of concussion, and take proactive steps to have potential concussions properly evaluated.

Dr Nirav Shah

LastUpdate: 2016-04-03 12:50:47


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