Costs of head injury

“No pain no gain.” While athletes often feel pressured to follow this motto and play through their pain, playing through a concussion not only delays recovery but can also have fatal consequences.

According to sports neurologist Erik Beltran, he often tells student athletes to think about concussions as a network of highways.

“What a concussion does is it shakes the brain such that it induces some slowing of the traffic of [your brain’s] different highways,” said Beltran. “So it’s not like you’re physically breaking or damaging a bridge where the traffic can’t get through. It’s more like you’re causing traffic accidents and slowing down traffic, so your brain can’t function as quickly as it normally does.”

Marty Mrazik, neuropsychology assistant consultant for the National Hockey League and Canadian Football League, said in a video conference that getting multiple concussions even after recovery can cause persistent headaches and dizziness. Pre-existing conditions like mood disorders and migraines may also worsen.

In contact sports, anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of players will suffer a concussion during the course of a season, Mrazik said.

According to head athletic trainer Ryan Moran, a concussed athlete is eligible to start a six-day return-to-play protocol once they return to full participation in the classroom. This procedure includes being symptom-free for a day, followed by a 20-minute bike ride with limited head movement, an exercise allowing for any head movement, a non-contact practice, a full contact practice and then official clearance from the trainers on the sixth day.

According to Beltran, a concussion increases risk for the development of other concussive injuries.

One indicator of a contact sport not being safe for an athlete to start playing again is if the athlete experienced a change in their ability to tolerate head impact, such as having more concussive symptoms on lighter head impacts, Beltran said.

According to Mrazik, the risks of playing through a concussion and messing with the brain’s chemistry are not worth the risk.

“You can get away with it some of the time but not most of the time, so that’s where it’s just better to be cautious and better to keep your brain in good health, rather than take risks.”