Concussions 101

Concussions 101

Everything You Need To Know About Concussions

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Concussions have been called the most complicated injury to the most complicated organ in the body

Symptoms of a concussion run the gamut from headaches and forgetfulness to loss of consciousness and permanent disability. Gone are the days of telling players to go "shake it off" after a blow to the head. Players, parents, coaches and health care professionals all know that each and every possible concussion needs to be taken seriously. 

Your brain is a free floating gelatinous structure sitting on top of your brainstem. Damage to brain cells can occur from a single blow to the head or from the accumulation of several smaller "hits" that cause the brain to jostle around inside the skull. Brain cells called neurons must maintain a highly regulated electro-chemical gradient (more positively charged on the outside of the cell relative to the inside) in order to be able to transmit messages throughout your brain and body. When neurons are injured, a cascade of inflammation ensues as the brain makes an attempt to minimize neuronal cell death and restore the electro-chemical gradient as quickly as possible. 

Typically, this inflammatory process will ramp up then slow down within the first week or two following the injury. Immune cells rush in to clean up the damage. This is the time for you to rest and focus on supporting your brain's innate healing capacity with proper nutrition. Avoid sugars, especially sports drinks or juice that can raise your blood sugar quickly. Eat healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates. If a player doesn’t heal properly and goes back to full mental and physical activities too soon, the chances of a compounding injury are greatly increased. Even a small stressor or jolt could be enough to cause more damage to vulnerable brain cells. Going back to play too soon could result in mood disorders, learning difficulties, hormonal imbalances or stomach issues depending on what region of the brain is affected. It has also been established that concussions that do not heal completely increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases later in life. What happens to your brain when you are 16 can affect how your brain functions when you are 60. After you have been cleared of an emergency situation, find a practitioner who understands the connection between concussions, inflammation, nutrition, hormonal regulation and gut health - all of these areas need to be address to ensure the best possible outcome. 

Here are some helpful guidelines: 

1. Objective baseline testing. Computerized balance or eye movement tests are excellent ways to get an objective baseline reading. You can't fake your way through balance testing or eye movement testing no matter how smart or strong you are. Many athletes are bright enough to pass verbal screening tests even when their brain is not functioning optimally. 

2. Nutrition. We know that certain nutrients play a key role in brain health and healing. If you have adequate amounts of nutrients before you get hit,  your body will have what it needs to respond right then and there. 

3. Play Smart. Learn how to tackle, check or head the ball properly. Neck strength plays an important role in risk of concussion so see a chiropractor regularly to make sure your spine is functioning properly. Wear a helmet, but know that helmets can not prevent your soft brain from rotating, shearing and coming into contact with the inside of your hard skull. Helmets are great to prevent blunt injury to the skull, but can not prevent concussions.  

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