By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
Injuries are nothing new to athletes, but as more and more data is gathered and the long-term effects are studied, it’s become increasingly obvious that concussions have become a dangerous epidemic among athletes at any level of competition. In a survey conducted by the NCAA, 20,000 student-athletes were asked whether they had ever experienced a concussion.
The results showed that over 13 percent of women and over 18 percent of men suffered at least one, if not multiple, concussions during their time in college. In another study done by the Journal of Athletic Training, it was reported that nearly 6 percent of all injuries reported by college athletes were concussions.
What makes concussions so bad? The Mayo Clinic puts it in easy-to-understand terms: “Your brain has the consistency of gelatin…A violent blow to your head and neck or upper body can cause your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner walls of your skull.” This trauma can case bleeding and bruising of the actual brain, leading to dizziness, nausea and amnesia immediately following the initial impact.
Unsurprisingly, the highest percentage of concussions came from high-impact sports such as football and ice hockey. While neither of these is played at Asbury, soccer and the newly added lacrosse represented a large percentage of concussion cases in NCAA athletes. Over 20 percent of collegiate soccer players reported injury (23 percent of men, 21 percent of women). In lacrosse, these numbers go up for men and stay about the same for women (25.6 percent of men, 20.1 percent of women).
At Asbury, head athletic trainer Andrew Bolt reported that there were, anywhere from 16-20 concussion cases this year among student athletes, noting that the number varies greatly from year to year. “We wait until the end of the year to run our numbers…I’ve had twenty one year and two the next year.”
Many schools have adopted measures to make sure that student-athletes have fully recovered from their concussion before they’re allowed to play again. At Asbury, Bolt and his staff use the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT), a multi-part test that measures severity of post-concussion symptoms, along with cognitive skills that might have been impaired by an injury.
“We don’t allow anyone to return to play until they’re symptom free for at least one [24 hour] day,” Bolt said. After clearing that 24 hour window, athletes still have to go through a six-day process that eases them back into activity. After that, policy says that athletes still have to get checked out by a physician before they are allowed to return to practice.
Athletes being rushed back into action before they’re truly recovered can have dangerous repercussions. Having one concussion makes the victim more susceptible to a second, third and so on. If a second concussion occurs before the first is fully healed, the brain can swell, sometimes fatally.
“Ideally, it would be about seven to ten days,” Bolt said on the average recovery time. “If between day seven and day ten symptoms haven’t resolved, they’re usually out for an extended period of time…usually between two to three weeks.”
As for long-term effects, while many studies are still in progress, the current findings all point to multiple concussions having extremely harmful effects that can lead to lasting impairments, a fact that Bolt realizes can lead to a sad reality for some athletes.
“We go based on severity [determined by the SCAT test],” Bolt said. “If you have three or four major concussions, at that point we will recommend that you don’t play sports anymore.”