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NWI sports medicine doctor discusses concussion causes, treatments, precautions
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NWI sports medicine doctor discusses concussion causes, treatments, precautions

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The human body can withstand a lot of abuse, but even the most hard-headed child and mightiest athlete are vulnerable to concussion.

A concussion is more than just a simple hit to the head, explains Dr. Anthony Levenda, orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in sports medicine for Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute in Chesterton and team physician for Valparaiso University and Chesterton, Wheeler and Portage high schools. “It’s trauma to the brain or, basically, a bruise on the brain, not just the bone.”

It can be caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another event that jars or shakes the brain, according to WebMD.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recreational and sports activities lead to as many as 3.8 million concussions in the U.S. annually, with only 5 to 10 percent of those recognized and diagnosed. High school athletes sustain about 300,000 of them. 

“When it comes to athletes, team doctors should have a low threshold of suspicion with concussion,” Levenda says, erring on the side of assuming a concussion when assessing the severity of a head injury. That goes for athletes and nonathletes, especially because a concussion doesn't always present with obvious symptoms such as loss of consciousness. “When an athlete has a head injury, we keep track of how the athlete is feeling. Football is the sport in which we watch it the most, but we also have a low threshold for head injuries in basketball, soccer, and baseball. Team doctors and coaches rely on the expertise of athletic trainers, who are well-trained in recognizing and treating concussions.”

If a concussion is suspected, athletic trainers report it to the coach and team physician so the athlete can be monitored and treated as needed. 

There’s tremendous pressure on kids and their parents to “tough it out” and stay in the game, but that can cloud what’s important. Indiana law gives trainers the say on whether to sideline an athlete if concussion is suspected.

Levenda says, “We have to protect kids from themselves. Sometimes when the trainer pulls kids, it takes the pressure off parents and kids.”

Those with concussion need to rest the brain as much as possible, which is not easy in the age of smartphones and electronic devices.

“Resting the brain is difficult, as it’s more than sleeping,” Levenda says. “It means no reading, no phones or iPads, and keeping the room dark.”

For students, teachers also need to be enlisted to delay school work and tests until the brain heals. Depending on the severity of concussion, activities from reading to driving, work to athletics can be reintroduced slowly based on clearance from a doctor.

Because there is still much that isn’t understood about concussion, the risk must be weighed against the reward, Levenda says. In particular, repeated concussions can lead to memory loss and worse to an athlete who might want to stop playing the sport. “You have to decide: Is the risk worth it?" he says.

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