With the XXIII Olympic Games set to take place in a few weeks in South Korea, the issue of concussions is front and center, thanks largely to well publicized concussion management protocols established as an outgrowth of a tragic history of traumatic brain injuries among professional football players.
For winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding, hockey, and ice skating—where high speeds and slippery surfaces are the norm—falls and collisions involving the head may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive, degenerative disease that has been linked to a litany of life-changing symptoms such as memory loss, impaired judgement, insomnia, dementia and depression so deep it pushed some retired football players, such as Junior Seau, to take their own lives.
With the high stakes that are involved in competing on a worldwide stage—there is concern that athletes may disregard reporting hits to the head as he or she pushes to the podium. For many athletes, the Olympics represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they may fear getting sidelined in a sport where fleeting success rewards very few.
1. Always wear a properly fitted helmet and replace it after a serious fall.
When wearing a hat or cap to keep your head warm, make sure your helmet still fits securely on your head. It’s also very important to replace your helmet after a serious crash. Some helmets are built to only withstand a single impact, while others can withstand more than one — depending on the severity. The snow may seem soft, but trees, ice, and other people aren’t.
2. Have fun, but know your limitations.
If it’s your first time on the slopes, take lessons from an expert. Learn the fundamentals from a pro, start slowly, and be patient. Know your limitations and make sure children do as well. Young children should never play on snow or ice without close supervision. For snowmobiles and ATVs, remember children under age 6 should never ride on them and no one under 16 should be driving them.
3. Be familiar with your surroundings and stay alert.
- Be sure to scope out the trail, sledding hill, or skating rink before you take off at full speed.
- Be aware of blind spots, turns, and sudden drops or knolls.
- Try to avoid crowded areas, as you could also be injured when someone else does something irresponsible.
- Try to stay near the center of the trail or hill to avoid obstacles.
- Never ski or sled through, or close to trees.
- Stay alert and never wear headphones so you can hear what’s going on around you.
4. Be aware of the warning signs for concussion
If you or someone you are with does take a hard spill, be sure you recognize the warning signs of a traumatic brain injury. Signs and symptoms of a mild brain injury, or concussion, can show up right after the injury, or they may not appear until days or even weeks afterward. Concussion symptoms can include: headaches, weakness, numbness, decreased coordination or balance, confusion, slurred speech, nausea, and vomiting.
Sometimes people complain of “just not feeling like themselves.” If you or a loved one notices any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away. And if the person loses consciousness, call 911 or seek emergency medical help as soon as possible.
Finally, if you have a concussion, give yourself a chance to heal. Experiencing a second injury before the first one heals could have long-term consequences.
January is National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month as designated by The Johnny O Foundation.
– Bill Glovin