By Grant Lumkong. “I am a 17-year-old Trini-American tennis player with a passion for raising awareness about sports-related concussion.”
Football was my obsession, but now you’ll find me on the tennis court. Like many athletes today, the risk of recurrent concussions knocked me into a non-contact sport. As a child and young teenager, I spent every free moment watching or playing football. My life changed one day when I contended for a header and collided heads with a player on the opposing team, resulting in a concussion.
Concussion symptoms – headache, fatigue, and dizziness
A concussion is defined by the CDC as a “type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth”. For days after the collision, I experienced common symptoms of concussion: headache, fatigue, and dizziness. I did not experience a loss of consciousness, which only occurs in 5 percent of concussions according to the CDC.
Risk is higher for athletes with history of concussion
After a gradual recovery of about 3 weeks, I was back on the pitch with my teammates. In a study done by the CDC, the risk of concussion is 4 to 6 times higher in players with a previous history of concussion. From my perspective, the love for the game outweighed the risk of a little hit to the head. Just months after recovering, I suffered a second concussion. This one resulted in more severe symptoms including temporary loss of consciousness, amnesia, and disorientation.
The recovery’s duration was almost twice as long. After a neurologist explained the high chance and risk of repeated concussion, I made the difficult decision to hang up my boots for good.
Every year hundreds of thousands of young athletes, like me, suffer from concussions. Not all need to abandon their beloved sport. Fortunately, concussion awareness and education is facilitating early recognition and prevention.
What do I do if I think I sustained a concussion?
You must remove yourself from play immediately. The phrase, “When in doubt, sit it out,” is essential. Numerous athletes in sports such as football, rugby, and cricket feel that they must embrace a “tough guy” persona and continue to play through head injury. In reality, if an athlete does not address possible concussion, they are at risk of serious long-term consequences that may last a lifetime.
What do I do after removing myself from play?
Contact a medical physician as soon as possible. X-Rays and CT scans cannot show structural changes in the brain from concussion. For this reason, concussions tend to go underreported since they are an “invisible injury”, which means they cannot be diagnosed from the naked eye or medical technology. It is necessary to rest and let the brain heal. Athletes who return to play too soon have a significantly higher chance of acquiring another concussion, even with very little contact. This could lead to Second Impact Syndrome- or SIS- which results in rapid brain swelling which may lead to coma or even death.
How soon can I return to school and sport after concussion?
Never judge the severity of an injury on your own. A student’s return to school and sports should be carefully managed and monitored by a healthcare provider.
How many concussions can an athlete sustain before he or she should stop playing contact sports?
There is no specific number of concussions that determines whether an athlete should stop playing a high-risk concussion sport. It depends on the severity of the injury, such as the duration of the symptoms and if long term problems start to surface. It is important to discuss with a physician whether or not it is safe to continue playing a contact sport.
After stopping football, I wondered if I would ever excel at sports again. I realized that the footwork, competitiveness, and physical endurance of football translates well to tennis. These days you will find me at the ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournaments in Tacarigua. Afterwards, I’ll still enjoy watching my favorite football teams on television from the safety of my couch.
For more information about sports-related concussions, visit https://caribbeanconcussion.com/ and https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/index.html
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