Concussions not among GC’s most common injurie
GC’s athletic trainers addressed around 20 concussions in 2017, but strict protocols have improved recovery time and prevented potential fatalities caused by second-impact syndrome.
Head athletic trainer Paul Higgs said that each year, GC’s varsity sports see fewer than 10 concussions.
“It’s less than 5 percent of the injuries we see, which is about standard for athletics in general,” Higgs explained. “I think we’re within the norms of concurrence, but the challenge is whether they’re reported adequately.”
For intramural and club sports, the number of reported concussions is even lower. Caitlin Moeller, GC’s athletic trainer for rec sports, said only four concussions have been reported in 2018, but 12 were reported last year.
“We see more concussions in club sports than intramurals,” Moeller said. “This year hasn’t been as bad as last year.
We’ve had fewer rugby and men’s soccer matches than last year, so that’s just up to chance.”
GC’s varsity athletes undergo a strict concussion protocol that begins before an athlete has even been concussed.
“Every athlete in the high-risk sports takes a computerized test that checks memory, sequencing and reaction time, and we get an idea of what your brain does on a good day,” Higgs said. “So if there’s ever a concussion that happens during the year, we’ve got something to compare it to.”
Higgs said the test plots numbers on graphs to show a change in the athlete’s brain function, and it can also be administered to athletes recovering from concussions to show them how quickly their brain is healing.
GC and the NCAA enforce strict protocols that require athletes suspected of having experienced a concussion to be removed from competition immediately and evaluated by a trainer. Athletes may not return to the game, even if an evaluation suggests they do not have a concussion.
This rule prevents an athlete from sustaining another blow to the brain that could cause second-impact syndrome, which has a 50 percent chance of causing immediate death.
“We may not prevent the first injury, but we can prevent the first injury from getting worse,” Higgs said.
GC’s club sport athletes also undergo a preliminary test before competition; intramural athletes do not. Moeller said all athletes must be removed from competition and evaluated just like varsity athletes.
According to 2015 research from the Centers for Disease Control, Americans are diagnosed with 3.8 million concussions per year.
Concussions are also not always the result of a direct hit to the head.
“You have two categories of mechanisms to cause concussions: direct impact and indirect impact, and that’s referring to the brain and not necessarily to the head,” Moeller explained. “If someone got hit in the head with a rugby ball, that would be direct impact. But when you jump up and someone takes your legs out and your head snaps back, sometimes you can still get concussed whether or not your head hits the ground.”
Once a concussion is confirmed, Higgs said athletes may experience any of more than 20 symptoms, including lingering headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, confusion, memory problems and problems processing ideas.
“Sometimes it may be three or four symptoms standing out, or sometimes it could be ten symptoms that are just nagging and won’t go away,” Higgs said. “We try to evaluate that through some tests we do by challenging what the brain does and checking to see how the brain is working. That gives us an idea of where they are, and we can map out a plan to recovery.”
Senior Austin Simpson, a business management major, played football at Buford High School but quit the game at the beginning of his senior year after being diagnosed with his third concussion.
Along with having a sensitivity to light and sound, Simpson added that concussions also caused him to be anxious and irritable.
Moeller stressed the importance of other athletes speaking up if they notice a drastic change in a teammate’s behavior following a hit or fall.
“What I’ve noticed is that sometimes after a major, hit teammates and friends will come up and tell me that they don’t think someone is OK,” Moeller said. “There’s a lot more of that in sports culture with people looking out for each other.”
GC’s varsity athletes also complete a class that helps identify concussion symptoms.
The average athlete recovers from a concussion in seven days. During this time, athletes must avoid excessive amounts of schoolwork and electronics.
While recovering, Moeller and Higgs said all athletes receive daily evaluations. Some varsity athletes may resume exercise protocols in less than seven days.
“There’s a lot of research showing now that exercise is OK as long as its supervised and controlled,” Higgs said.
With so much emphasis being placed on finding ways to keep athletes in high-contact sports safe, Higgs said he feels GC’s sports are as safe as they can be.
“In football you can teach better techniques or change the helmet type,” Higgs said, “but with the sports we have, I don’t know if you can do a lot to change the techniques to make them safer.”