It didn't take long — hours in fact — for members of the media to start pointing the finger at concussion in the wake of the murder-suicide perpetrated by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. In the same breath, memories of the tragedies involving Junior Seau and Dave Duerson were dredged back up.
Proof was eventually forthcoming in Duerson's case. An autopsy revealed he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), once known as “Punch-Drunk Syndrome” because of its frequency among boxers. Still no word on Seau. And it's far too soon for such speculation in Belcher's case
The same can be said for one conclusion made in an otherwise fine report on concussion which aired last month on HBO's “Real Sports.” During the segment in question, correspondent Bernie Goldberg interviewed a former Harvard football player now in an advanced stage of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Goldberg presented as fact that football was the cause.
True enough, as documented in this space previously, the incidence of ALS among ex-NFL football players is far higher than it is among the general public, while the incidence among ex-professional soccer players is even higher. However, association does not equal causation.
Bears neuropsychologist Dr. Beth Pieroth likes to talk about “attribution issues” when it comes to concussion. She recounts the calls she has received from parents frantic about their child suddenly running a fever, becoming dizzy, and vomiting, months after a concussion. With the near-hysteria surrounding concussion, stomach flu becomes forgotten even if it is the most likely diagnosis with those symptoms.
In short, concussion is not the source of all later pathology among contact/collision athletes. Most cases of concussion, managed properly, resolve without consequence.
That said, concussion is nothing to be ignored. And despite the heightened awareness among the general public, the attitude of too many athletes, coaches, and parents is that concussion may be a problem but it is someone else's.
The only way to diagnose a concussion is by a thorough evaluation of signs and symptoms. Currently there is no readily available MRI or blood test with which to make a diagnosis.
Nor is such a test necessary. Simply put, when the head is struck or suddenly jarred or spun, headache, nausea, dizziness, light or noise sensitivity, unusual mood changes, memory or concentration issues, and/or sleep difficulties may follow — instantly or in moments, minutes, or a day or two. If they do, you, your athlete, or your child has a concussion.
Whether you want to believe it or not.
According to a study published Friday in the journal Neurosurgical Focus, neither Canadian collegiate hockey coaches nor their players want to believe it.
It is precisely that kind attitude which will turn a relatively minor injury into a severe one.
In the immediate aftermath of concussion, the key to an uncomplicated recovery is physical and mental rest. Without both, symptoms tend to linger and/or worsen. More dangerous than that is the repeat concussion before recovery from the first is complete — an occurrence which is entirely unnecessary but still all too common.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.