Concussions in college athletics require serious attention, proper recovery time
It’s the fall 2014 semester at SUNY Oswego and the men’s club rugby team is having one of its daily practices over at Hidden Fields. Even though it’s Halloween, and most of the team would rather be out drinking, they have a game coming up and need to get in some last-minute drills. Then, amid the tackling practice, something goes wrong.
One of the players goes in for a hit at the wrong angle and immediately drops to the ground and begins seizing. No one is worried at first. It’s Halloween after all and this teammate is known for his pranks. But soon it becomes clear this isn’t a joke and an ambulance is called.
After many tense minutes, the player is carried off the field, loaded into the back of an ambulance and taken to the hospital. Later that night the team will get the news he is all right, but he will never play rugby again — his concussion has made sure of that.
Fortunately, in this case the team took immediate action to seek medical help, but a lot of injuries go unexamined as a result of the team’s club status.
“It’s a problem,” said Reid Adler, president of the team. “There are definitely a lot of things that go undiagnosed. We don’t get a lot of support from the school in terms of health, which is a big problem because people get hurt all the time.”
Although only about four members of the 50-person roster have suffered a concussion this year, Adler recognizes the dangers associated with such an injury. When it comes to concussions, the team knows the dangers and takes a much more urgent approach in dealing with them.
“If someone has a concussion, we’ll send them off the field,” Adler said. “Then we’ll self-assess. If it’s bad, they’ll go to the hospital. If it’s minor we’ll pull them for the day and have them get checked out during the week.”
However, waiting to get checked out, even for a minor concussion, may result in serious issues, according to the director of SUNY Oswego’s Walker Health Center, Elizabeth Burns.
“You may have some people who get hit in the head and think ‘Oh that doesn’t look bad,’ but it could end up being concerning,” Burns said. “Someone who sees stars or gets stunned has had an injury. Even if they didn’t lose consciousness, their brain hit within the skull. The concerning thing with that is: Will there be a potential bleed? And that is a medical emergency.”
If someone is experiencing concussion-like symptoms, such as nausea, headache, blurred vision and drowsiness, Burns suggests a trip to the doctor.
In order to ensure concussions are being properly treated in varsity athletics at SUNY Oswego, the university’s athletic trainers are working to implement a new policy that would create an overarching protocol to deal with such injuries, according to assistant athletic trainer Elise Fitzsimmons.
The Laker staff is teaming up with a doctor who specializes in concussions in order to find ways to better handle the cases and ensure a proper recovery.
“There will be initial testing, just to see where people are baseline. Then there will be follow-up testing, based on when they receive a concussion, within 24-hours,” Fitzsimmons said. “There will be a number of different factors in whether they go see a doctor or if it’s handled in-house. Most of ours are handled in house right now. But, moving forward we’re definitely going to have more protocol for testing beforehand to see where their baseline test is. Then you can see where they’re at post-concussion based on where they were at the beginning.”
Football is the sport notorious for its concussion crisis, in the absence of a team at SUNY Oswego, Fitzsimmons sees concussions most often in hockey and soccer.
“[In hockey] it could be just someone hitting their head on the boards,” Fitzsimmons said. “People get hit in the head with the puck. In soccer, it’s usually contact with another player. You just mismanage your special awareness or the ball goes a way you didn’t expect it to go and you get hit that way.”
In rugby, concussions are typically a result of inexperience. Adler sees them happen most often when a young player does not execute properly.
“It happens a lot with people less experienced — doing things the wrong way and getting hurt,” Adler said. “Tackles going in the wrong way or not being aware of their surroundings will give them a good concussion. Really it’s if someone’s not where they’re supposed to be or gets hit the wrong way.”
While concussions are a serious and complicated issue, the recovery process is fairly simple. Not much can be done for a concussion other than just resting and giving the brain time to heal.
“There’s not really anything you can do,” Fitzsimmons said. “The brain is one of the harder things to deal with because there is no specific recovery process for it. You can do simple things like not looking at your phone or not watching TV. Sleeping is one of the best things you can do for it. Those little things can help it, but there’s nothing you can really do to make it just go away.”
There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of players receiving concussions in contact sports, and as a result the research must continue to develop ways to prevent and treat such injuries.
“Concussions have always been a hot topic in athletic training,” Fitzsimmons said. “And it will continue to be a hot topic until they figure out better ways to manage it and test for it.”