Concussion repercussions

I went to a Montreal Canadiens game last week, with the Bruins as the visiting team. The atmosphere in the Bell Center was festive, as the Habs went up 4-0 in the first two periods. The mood shifted drastically, however, as a Canadiens forward was checked into the stanchion between the benches and fell to the ice, unconscious.

The now-infamous hit by Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty resulted in a serious concussion, as well as a fractured C4 vertebra. Amid the controversy regarding the hit and whether further disciplinary action should be brought against Chara, the incident brings the seriousness of concussion injuries back into the public eye.

A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury, in which a sudden impact causes the brain to compress against the inside of the skull, resulting in a temporary loss of brain function. The majority of concussions do not result in loss of consciousness. Roughly 1% percent of the population will suffer from a concussion at some point, although this statistic is likely an underrepresentation of the true prevalence. We used to view concussions as relatively minor events, but some disturbing recent studies have shown that they can have serious consequences.

Common side effects of a concussion are headache, nausea, loss of motor coordination, and sensory dysfunction. These usually dissipate without requiring treatment acutely after the injury. However, with post-concussion syndrome, symptoms may not disappear for months or years, or even at all, and there is currently no treatment except rest.

We are also learning a rapidly increasing amount about the effects of concussion on emotional and cognitive function. Recent studies in National Football League players have shown an association between concussion and depression, as well as memory deficits and general cognitive impairment. Tragically, traumatic sports injuries have even been linked with suicide. These effects have been attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition in which multiple head injuries lead to aggregate damage to the brain; boxers that are termed ‘punchy’ suffer from one form of CTE.

Pacioretty will hopefully recover from his injuries avoiding these particular issues, although his future career is in doubt. However, the primary issue is that millions of young athletes engage in contact sports on a regular basis, putting developing brains at risk for serious neuropsychological consequences. It is imperative that future research determines how best to mitigate the risk of concussion-related injuries in these vulnerable individuals.


On a lighter note, this week is Brain Awareness Week, so make sure to attend some of the great events and get involved (also check out their blog here)!

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Posted in Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Public Education.

Posted on 16 Mar 2011

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