Sports And Traumatic Brain Injuries

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs as a result of sudden damage to the brain that is caused by a jolt or blow to the head. There are many adverse symptoms that could manifest as a result of a TBI, affecting one’s cognitive abilities (e.g. learning and thinking skills). The severity of a TBI is dependent upon several contributing factors (e.g. force of the impact, nature of the injury, etc.). The Mayo Clinic provides a list of common events that could cause a TBI, which includes sports injuries. According to the North Carolina Medical Journal “football and soccer have the highest concussion rates, and collision/ contact sports such as hockey, lacrosse, and basketball generally have higher concussion rates than non-contact sports such as track and volleyball.” The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that there are 1.7 to 3.8 million traumatic brain injuries that occur in the United States each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximates that 10 percent arise due to sports and recreational activities. 

Sports-Related Concussions

Concussions are another name for mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI). It is not uncommon for athletes in both contact and non-contact sports to experience concussions. In 2016, the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sports explained that sports-related concussions (SRC) are a “historical term representing low velocity injuries that cause brain ‘shaking’ resulting in clinical symptoms and that are not necessarily related to a pathological injury.” The current definition of an SRC includes the following four criteria:

  • A direct or indirect trauma anywhere on the body with a force transmitted to the head;
  • Rapid (seconds to minutes) or delayed (minute to hours) symptom presentation, typically with spontaneous resolution;
  • Negative standard neuroimaging (computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)), reflecting a function rather than structural injury;
  • With or without loss of consciousness, with stepwise resolution of symptoms.

Research has found that an athlete that has sustained a concussion is three to six times more likely to sustain another one. Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), acute brain swelling, occurs when a second concussion is sustained before complete recovery from the previous concussion has been achieved. The repeated injury can lead to vascular congestion and/ or increased intracranial pressure. Athletes of certain sports such as boxing, football, hockey, soccer, baseball, skiing and basketball are at increased risk for SIS. 

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