August 17, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature 

Head games, part I

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There are two major mechanisms of injury, acceleration-deceleration and rotational: Acceleration injuries occur when the immobile head is struck by a moving object; Deceleration injuries occur when the head is moving and hits an immobile object; Rotational injuries occur when a blow to the side of the head causes the brain to swivel on the spinal column causing injury to the spinal cord.

The severity of a brain injury can either be classified as mild or traumatic, based on the severity of the symptoms. Sometimes surgery is required to relieve pressure built up inside the brain as the result of swelling or bleeding, to remove foreign objects or pieces of skull, or to remove the clots that can form as a result of the injury. Sometimes the person affected does not even know that they’ve sustained a brain injury, or confuses the symptoms with something else.

There is no rule as to how much force is required to bring on a concussion, and as a result doctors don’t rate the force when grading concussions. Instead they measure the symptoms, adding them up to grade the concussion from one, being the least serious, to three, being the most severe. Then they determine what course of action to recommend. Children of any age and people with weak genetics are generally more susceptible to head injuries, and sometimes all the force that is necessary to produce a concussion is a shake or a mild contact with something like a soccer ball.

Mild symptoms include headaches, lightheadedness, falling, dizziness, blurred or double vision, nausea, vomiting, short-term memory loss, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, sadness, slowed thinking, impaired reading skills, inability to carry out routine tasks or learn new facts, disorganization, and a diminished attention span.

Traumatic symptoms include headaches, spasticity, dizziness, reduced co-ordination, sensory dysfunction, memory loss, concentration problems, perception/sequencing difficulties, impaired judgment, impaired communication skills, fatigue, loss of empathy, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, emotional volatility, slowed thinking, and impaired writing and reading skills.

Second Impact Syndrome generally occurs when an athlete returns to a sport too soon after sustaining even a mild concussion and gets hit in the head a second time. The second trauma is more debilitating than the first and can lead to significant and permanent deficits, and in some cases, death. A fall from as little as 60 centimetres (two feet) can cause permanent brain damage, and an accident at speeds as slow as 7 km to 10 km an hour is enough to shatter a deceptively fragile human skull.

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