Justin Bieber ran into a glass wall; a backup dancer struck Lady Gaga on the head with a pole; Hillary Clinton hit her head when she fainted; Elvis Presley blacked out after banging his head on the side of a bathtub. It’s human nature to check for bleeding and, usually finding none, we rub the spot that hurts and carry on. But that’s the insidious nature of concussions – if there is any bleeding or swelling, it’s internal.
An estimated 75 percent of all Americans will experience at least one concussion in their lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.4 million Americans sustain a brain injury each year and as many as 50,000 of them die as a result.
Concussions are classified as a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and typically come in three grades. A Grade 1 concussion is the least serious, occurring when the brain is injured, but the person does not lose consciousness and the degree of disorientation is low (amnesia present for less than 30 minutes). With a Grade 2 concussion, the degree of disorientation is higher and may involve a person’s not being able to recall who they are or what they have been doing. This level of severity can involve a loss of consciousness for less than five minutes or amnesia for between 30 minutes and 24 hours. A Grade 3 event causes unconsciousness for more than five minutes or amnesia for more than 24 hours.
The brain is a complicated organ, controlling the body’s functions and performing an incredible number of tasks. It is hardwired to protect itself from injury, so oftentimes concussion symptoms might not be noticed for several days or weeks, if it all. Because each person’s brain is unique, no two concussions are the same. While many people recover completely from concussions within a few weeks, for some, the negative effects can be long lasting. In fact, the CDC estimates that one in ten concussion sufferers can have permanent cognitive deficits or emotional injury.
Rather, a concussion is a brain injury that results in a temporary loss of normal brain function. It can cause mood symptoms like anxiety, irritability and depression. These emotional symptoms can coincide with physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea, blurry vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise. Added to that are cognitive symptoms like problems with memory, judgment, speech, reflexes, balance, concentration and sleep.
The leading causes of concussions seen in emergency departments include vehicle accidents, falls, playing sports, unintentional blunt force traumas and assaults.
Vehicle Crashes & Car Wrecks
On average, there are 5.4 million non-fatal car collisions every year in the United States. In 2012, more than 24,000 of those vehicle wrecks were on Kentucky roads, resulting in just about every injury imaginable. Although concussions can be the only injury received in a traffic accident, more often than not they are suffered along with more obvious bodily wounds such as broken bones, burns or paralysis.
It’s important to note that even without a direct hit to the head, a car accident can still jolt the brain enough to result in a concussion. While few of us think about our high school lessons on Newton’s laws of motion, those laws are always at work, and they are the reason that a sudden deceleration can result in a brain injury.
To simplify the science behind it, just imagine yourself riding in a car. If the car suddenly stops, your body continues to move forward at the same speed as the speed the car was traveling before it was stopped until some external force stops it. In the best scenario, you were wearing your seatbelt and that acts to stop your body from hitting the dashboard or windshield.
The impact of a traffic accident causes the soft tissue of a driver’s or passenger’s brain to crash back and forth against the skull’s inner wall, causing bruising, bleeding and tearing of nerve fibers.
Even if you feel alright after an accident, it is always a good idea to seek medical care. Brain injuries may take a delayed path, initially having no symptoms or mild ones that worsen over time. Postponing medical treatment is not good for either your health or your chances of getting proper financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
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Sports & Head Injuries
Concussions can happen in any sport. The University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center estimates that more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. every year and that the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is as high as 19 percent per year of play. The National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that about 140,000 high school athletes suffer concussions every year, although many go unreported. The CDC reports that among the 38 million youths who participate in organized sports in the United States, concussion is the most common injury and has risen 57 percent among children (age 19 or younger).
Last year, avid sports fan and concerned parent President Barack Obama joined the discussion about the threat of brain damage from sports, at the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit. This first White House summit on sports concussions brought together 200 sports officials, medical experts, parent activists and young athletes interested in finding new ways to identify, treat and prevent serious head injuries in youth sports. As a result, the NFL pledged $25 million over the next three years to support youth sports safety, while the NCAA and the Pentagon launched a $30 million clinical study of concussion and head-impact exposure among college students.
It’s important to recognize that for many players, it can be hard to admit they are injured and be pulled from the game. Young athletes especially may hide or downplay their symptoms because they don’t fully appreciate the health threats posed by concussions, are eager to play, don’t want to disappoint their teammates or think they can push through it. Given the severity of the possible consequences, the American Academy of Neurology recommends that any athlete suspected of experiencing a concussion be removed from play immediately, and the process of returning should be gradual. Far too many players feel the pressure to return prematurely instead of allowing themselves the time necessary for a full recovery.
Risks in Basketball
The country’s most popular youth sport, played by one million children each academic year, basketball is a contact sport. Collisions are common – ball to head, player to player, even head to floor. About 375,000 children and teenagers are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for basketball-related injuries, and the proportion related to head trauma is on the rise. A report in Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that basketball accounted for more than 9 percent of athletic concussions among 8- to 19-year-olds, placing it second among youth sports, behind only football (22 percent). Other researchers who examined ER visits for 5- to 19-year-olds found that traumatic brain injuries associated with playing basketball, predominantly in the form of concussion, had spiked 70 percent between 1997 and 2007.
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Today’s basketball players are bigger and stronger than they used to be. For example, the number of Division I players 6 feet 9 inches or taller increased from 649 in the 2000-1 season to 681 in the 2008-9 season. This extra force and mass means physical collisions are likely to result in injury, specifically concussions because players don’t wear head protection. While no helmet is concussion-proof, wearing one can help protect athletes from serious brain injuries. The NCAA has begun treating concussions as a priority – it now requires its member institutions to have a concussion management plan outlining a return-to-play protocol for their student-athletes.
According to the NCAA Injury Surveillance Center, 10% of all college football players sustain brain injuries, which is an average of 1,364 per year. The growing awareness that concussions can have serious long-term effects has led the NCAA Football Rules Committee to adopt harsher penalties for targeting on the field, and every school is required to have a concussion-management plan. Of course, football is a collision sport, with large bodies forcefully knocking into one another.
Football is the most popular sport in the nation for high school boys, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, with 1.1 million boys playing. All those athletes need to practice their skills, and perhaps because practices happen more often than games, there are more opportunities to get hurt.
Recently, a settlement was finally reached in a 2013 lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 professional ex-players against the NFL claiming that it failed to protect them adequately against concussions and head injuries. The NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle the claims, which is good news for the former players who have developed health problems linked to repeated blows to the head sustained on the football field. The NFL’s concussion crisis has raised some concerns about the sport’s future. Though a majority of Americans recently polled said they expect football to be just as popular in 20 years, 50 percent said they would not want their son to play the game.
Slips & Falls in the Elderly
While young adults are often involved in serious car wrecks or suffer sports injuries, it’s the elderly that are prone to slips and falls. The CDC reports that falls were the primary reason that people age 65 and older visited the emergency room from 2006 to 2010, accounting for almost 82 percent of their TBI-related visits. And because concussions are often missed or misdiagnosed, it’s important to be especially alert if you know that an older adult has fallen or has a fall-related injury such as a broken hip. Older people often take anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin or aspirin, to prevent blood clots, which makes them extremely vulnerable to the effects of a bump or blow to the head. Furthermore, concussions that happen to seniors usually take more time to heal.
Of further concern is the increased risk of dementia in those who experience a concussion at age 65 or older. Some researchers have found that there is about a 26 percent increased chance that an older adult will get dementia if they’ve fallen and had a mild concussion, as opposed to an injury elsewhere on their body, such as a broken arm or leg. As for those who suffer more than one traumatic injury to the brain, dementia risk more than doubles. Although it is not yet known whether concussions actually cause or accelerate degeneration of the brain, what is clear is the importance of fall prevention in the elderly.
Common sense tips for reducing fall risk include these:
- Make sure your glasses are the right prescription.
- Wear shoes inside as well as outside.
- Get moderate exercise to help improve balance.
- Don’t get up too quickly.
- Remove throw-rugs in your house.
- Install grab bars in your bathroom.
- Keep your stairs free of clutter.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky offers training on “Matters of Balance,” an eight-week program that is designed to help senior citizens prevent falls.
Once someone has had a concussion, it becomes easier for them to have a second concussion. Every additional concussion that occurs will increase the chances of a future concussion, and just as age can increase recovery times, so can a history of concussions. A teenager with a fourth concussion may actually recover more slowly than a 65-year-old with a first concussion.
Furthermore, people who get repeated head injuries can have permanent brain damage if they try to resume their normal routine too quickly after a concussion. A second concussion soon after the first does not have to be very strong for its effects to be permanently disabling or even deadly.
If someone is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms and they continue to be active, they could make their injury even worse. This is why it’s so critical that people who experience a concussion not resume normal activities (especially sports) until they have completely recovered. The best treatment is to allow time for the brain to heal.
Legal Options & Assistance
As a personal injury firm, we have helped many clients suffering from brain injuries seek financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. If you or someone you love suffered a concussion, you want a Kentucky brain injury lawyer that will be an advocate for you. Protect your rights by calling the Johnson Law Firm at 606-433-0682 or by filling out our consultation form for a free assessment of your case.