One thing, at Sports Lab, we think is important to discuss is sporting culture, and the positive and negative impacts this can have on athletes.
One negative area we have observed in sports culture is that which surrounds concussions. There is an estimate that 69% of student athletes neglect to report probable concussions symptoms, and there is growing evidence that highlights the risk of those athletes who continue to play with head injury. Why is this so high? Well, there is a culture in a lot of sports that glorifies playing through pain and taking big hits. To excel in sport, you need to be tough, to push through no matter what. But should we really be glorifying athletes playing though potentially serious injuries. Should athletes feel they have to play through a head injury?
What we would argue, is worth glorification is the ability of an athlete to remove themselves from a game when concussion is suspected, to listen to their body, to take the time to recover well. To recognize the signs of concussion and to seek professional help.

So What Even is Concussion?

According to ACC, concussion is an injury defined as a “complex process affecting the brain, induced by biomechanical forces”. Basically an external force causes your brain to shake within your skull, damaging your brain like a bruise. However, unlike a bruise to anywhere else in the body, a concussion produces alterations to the autonomic nervous system. This autonomic nervous system is the body’s control centre which is responsible for all unconscious bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, fight or flight response, basically everything we do without even thinking.

Any disruption to your autonomic nervous system can cause physiological changes such as:
· alteration to blood flow to the brain
· increase in resting heart rate
· decreased heart rate during exercise
These physiological changes are all responsible for that pesky headache, feeling of fatigue, sleep disturbance and inability to concentrate etc.

Recognise the Signs

Have headaches become a part of your everyday life or do you pop a panadol every few days just to keep them at bay? Do your headaches increase with activity or mental stimulation or lately have caught yourself saying things like “sorry I have the memory of a goldfish at the moment” or “a concentration span of a five-year-old”? If you have also experienced a recent head knock or whiplash motion you could be suffering from concussion.

Headaches are not the only way concussion can present itself. You could also experience things such as nausea, vision problems, balance issues, moodiness, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping, changes in sleeping length, poor concentration, fatigue, sensitivity to light or just not feel like your normal self. Concussion presents in multiple different ways and everyone will experience their own individual set of symptoms and severity. These signs and symptoms should not be ignored, if a concussion goes untreated it can have a serious impact on your general health and quality of life for up to 10 years.

Rest is Not Always Best

Traditionally concussion has been treated with prescribed rest until symptom free, however research has linked this treatment protocol with increased depression, feelings of isolation, decreased motivation and ultimately a slower recovery. New research has surfaced indicating the benefits of a treatment method involving sub-threshold exercise. This approach involves physiological testing to prescribe an individual treatment plan based on the physiological data obtained and the patients unique set of symptoms.

So stop putting up with daily headaches and lunch times spent in a dark, quiet room as concussion is reversible with a little bit of help.

Jenny Storey is a Sports Lab Physiotherapist. She has a passion for sports injury prevention and works for the Fit4Football injury prevention program. With a history of representing New Zealand in both rowing and hockey, she understands sports from both sides of the equation.