According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, each year, there are between 1.7 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States.
Concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries caused by blows, jolts, or bumps to the body or head that make the brain move forcefully within the skull. They are serious and can cause long-lasting damage, including issues with maintaining balance, so understanding which sports are the riskiest and how to prevent concussions in sports is essential.
The four sports with the highest number of concussions are:
- American football
- Ice hockey
The numbers are higher in men’s sports than women’s, with football leading the way in youth sports as well.
How Long Can a Concussion Last After a Sports Injury, and What Type of Damage Can It Cause?
Sports concussions are generally not long-lasting. It’s common for a concussion to be resolved within 7 to 10 days, with some symptoms taking as long as a few months to fade.
However, it is crucial to know that a person who has had a concussion is more at risk of future concussions. Having repeated concussions can lead to severe health concerns.
Concussions stretch and bruise blood vessels and nerves, leading to chemical changes in the brain that interrupt normal brain function.
Concussions in athletes can lead to both short-term and long-term damage. If the concussion is severe, it can lead to shearing injuries to nerves and neurons.
Someone with a sports concussion may experience:
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory loss
Balance issues are also very common after a concussion. A concussion can lead to double vision, problems with depth perception, and partial loss of vision, all of which can cause balance problems like dizziness and vertigo.
If the athlete receives more than one concussion in a short period of time, they can also suffer from second impact syndrome. During second impact syndrome, the person’s brain swells very quickly because the symptoms of the previous concussion have not yet disappeared. Second impact syndrome is a life-threatening condition.
What Causes Balance Issues After Concussions?
Concussions can lead to balance issues in several ways. An injury to the brainstem or cerebellum can impede the brain from receiving feedback from the body, rendering it unable to analyze the sensory feedback it does receive or preventing the ability to make the proper adjustments following the feedback.
Associated injuries can also have an impact on balance. If there were injuries to the spine, ribs, legs, or pelvis, there are structural issues that can make balance a problem.
Damage to the ears is even more significant in relation to balance. The inner ear contains canals with fluids and crystals that send information to the brain about the head’s position. If the concussion causes these crystals to move out of place, it can lead to benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
Damage to the visual system can be a concern as well. If there is damage to the eyes themselves or to the nerves that connect them to the brain, this can lead to not being able to respond quickly enough to environmental cues.
Another cause of balance issues can be medications used to treat head trauma. These can be antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs, pain medication, blood pressure medication, and sleeping pills. In some instances, the medications themselves can create or worsen balance issues.
How to Prevent Concussions in Sports
Wearing protective equipment at all times during sports is essential. The equipment should fit correctly and be in good shape.
Although having the proper protective equipment in place is helpful, and there have been advances in the construction of helmets, concussion-proof ones don’t yet exist, so it is essential for athletes to learn safe sports techniques.
In football, for example, athletes need to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact, and they should learn safe heads-up tackling techniques. Teaching young athletes how to strengthen neck muscles can help prevent concussions.
Sportsmanship and rules of safe play have to be at the forefront, with coaches and referees enforcing all of them to keep players safe.
If an athlete suffers a head injury, they should not return to the game until a medical professional clears them. This keeps them safe, as well as the rest of the players.
What Can Be Done to Treat a Sports-Related Concussion?
Someone who has suffered a concussion needs both mental and physical rest. Limiting physical activity is crucial to avoid re-injury. In the past, someone with a concussion wasn’t allowed any activity or stimuli, but that has proven unhelpful. Instead, moderation in reading, television, and computer usage can be helpful.
Within two to three days of rest, the person may be able to begin more physical activities, though not strenuous ones. As long as symptoms do not worsen, the activity can get progressively more strenuous. Some of the most helpful exercises are walking, riding a stationary bike, and light jogging.
Active rehabilitation has shown better results than “cocooning” the athlete after a concussion.
Effective treatment plans can involve medications, cognitive rehabilitation, and even psychological support for people with persistent difficulties, like headaches, vertigo, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Get Expert Help
Impairments of balance and dizziness remain common following sport-related concussions. It’s recommended to assess these vestibular impairments with tests of balance. At Happy Ears Balance Center, we offer help for people experiencing balance issues from having suffered sports concussions. We have the latest diagnostic tools at our service to ensure our patients get the assistance they need. Request an appointment today to learn more about sports concussions.