According to the Center for Disease Control, between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussion injuries happen every year in the U.S. To help you understand exactly what a concussion is and how sustaining one can affect your game, we hit up Dr. Mickey Collins, assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
STACK: What is a concussion?
Dr. Mickey Collins: The word concussion literally translates from the Latin “to shake violently.” And what happens with concussions is when an athlete is hit in the head, or even in the body, there’s a rapid motion. The brain, because it’s encased in fluid, much like an egg yolk inside an eggshell, will literally shake inside the skull. When that happens, the shaking of the brain produces all these chemical changes. And depending on where in the brain these chemical changes occur, you get different symptoms.
STACK: How does an athlete have to be hit to sustain a concussion?
MC: There are two forces that can cause concussion: rotational force and an acceleration-deceleration type of force. An athlete can get a concussion from getting hit in the side, front or back of the head…or even by taking a blow to the body where there’s a significant whiplash—when the head isn’t struck, but there’s a violent back-and-forth or side-to-side motion.
STACK: What damage can a concussion cause?
MC: Once chemical changes start, the injury will get worse if it’s not managed. And if the athlete chooses to play through the symptoms, less force will cause more serious problems. Recovery is going to take a lot longer, and in rare cases, you can actually have catastrophic outcomes. There have been kids who have had very severe or permanent disability—even death—[from] a concussion. They’re not recovered, [but] go back to play and get hit again. That’s why we’re so careful. It’s very rare, [but] I want to make sure athletes understand…it can happen.
STACK: How can an athlete prevent concussions?
MC: One of the best ways to prevent concussions is through neck strength. Having a strong neck actually allows the forces of the blow to be taken from the head down through the neck and into the torso. We really find that athletes with strong necks [can help prevent concussions].