Over the past 15 years, emergency rooms have seen visits for head injuries related to sports injuries triple. Of the 1.7 to 3.8 million traumatic brain injuries that happen every year in the US, about 10 percent are the result of recreational activities and sports. If you engage in sports, it is important to learn more about these injuries and how to prevent them to keep yourself healthy and safe.
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A TBI happens when there is an external force to your head that either damages your skull or causes brain movement within your skull. With a mild injury, temporary brain cell injury can occur. However, when the injury is more severe, the following are possible:
- Torn Tissues
- Other Brain-Related Physical Damage
There are two primary types of traumatic brain injury:
- Penetrating injuries happen when something enters your brain. For example, you are playing soccer and a cleat spike blow to the head causes the spike to go through your skull and into your brain.
- Closed injuries happen when you are hit in the head with sport’s equipment or hit your head when you fall.
No matter which type of TBI you experience, the symptoms are similar. It is important to note that symptoms may not occur for weeks after the injury, especially if you have a closed injury, such as a slow brain bleed.
The following are the possible physical symptoms:
Feeling confused, dazed or disoriented
Nausea or vomiting
Sleeping more often than usual
Drowsiness or fatigue
Loss of balance or dizziness
You could experience sensory issues, such as:
Sound or light sensitivity
Abnormal taste in your mouth
Ringing in your ears
Changes to your sense of smell
If you experience mental or cognitive symptoms, they may include:
Mood swings or changes
Concentration or memory issues
Feeling anxious or depressed
If your traumatic brain injury is especially severe, the following symptoms are also possible:
Longer loss of consciousness
Seizures or convulsions
Your pupils are dilated
Toe and finger weakness or numbness
Your ears or nose have a clear fluid drainage
You cannot wake up from sleep
Treating Traumatic Brain Injuries
Yes, there is treatment options for traumatic brain injuries. The exact protocol will depend on your injury and its severity. If your injury is mild, you might only need over-the-counter pain relievers and some rest to fully recover from the injury. However, you should still be monitored and not left alone just in case your symptoms increase. Always keep all doctor’s appointments and make sure to not return to your sport until you are cleared by a doctor.
If your injury is more severe, there are several things doctors can do to help to stabilize your condition and promote recovery. The primary goals are to make sure that you have an adequate blood supply, getting you sufficient oxygen and keeping your blood pressure stable. In some cases, medications are enough to stabilize this type of injury and they may include:
- Diuretics to reduce how much fluid accumulates to decrease swelling and fluid around your brain
- Coma-inducing drugs so that your body can rest with less oxygen for recovery
- Anti-seizure drugs if you are experiencing seizures or to prevent them from starting
In the most severe cases, your doctor might need to perform surgery to minimize any more damage from affecting the tissues of your brain. The following surgical procedures might be considered:
- Surgical repair of skull fractures, and to remove any bone fragments that are in your brain tissue
- Relieving pressure on your brain by drilling a hole into your skull so that fluids can drain
- Removing any blood clots that have developed on your brain to reduce the resulting pressure
- Stopping any bleeding on your brain by repairing blood vessels that are not clotting
Preventing Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries
While there is no way to prevent TBIs completely, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk. The following are ways to help reduce these injuries:
- Always wear a helmet that fits properly and is appropriate for your sport
- Know the symptoms of a TBI so that you can spot it if you experience one
- Make sure that any teams that you play for have a concussion protocol
- Ensure that your neck muscles are strong because this reduces your risk of a concussion
If you experience any type of head injury, it is important to seek medical attention. Not all injuries have immediate symptoms that are severe, so some people do not think that their injury is as bad as it is. The sooner a traumatic brain injury is treated, the greater your chance at a more favorable outcome.