The truth about concussions

Published 4:25 pm Friday, November 11, 2011

“There are 1 million kids in the United States that suffer concussions every year, and that’s the ones we know about,” Lebek said. “We definitely see the most concussions during football season, but it is seasonal. I’ve had softball players, volleyball players, soccer players and cheerleaders.”

Because a concussion is such a complex injury, it is nearly impossible to diagnose outside of a physician’s office, Lebek said.

“It’s not a quick process. Sometimes it can take hours,” Lebek said. “When we think someone has a concussion, we get them to come in as soon as possible, and we give them what is called the SCAT 2 exam.

“We will also ask the parents or someone who knows them really well if they are acting strangely or natural,” Lebek added.

During the SCAT 2 exam, doctors typically ask patients to conduct exercises involving balancing on one foot while closing their eyes, basic math problems and other simple coordination drills.

“Sometimes you will have high school seniors who can’t handle simple math problems. Sometimes they won’t remember what they ate before the game,” Lebek said.

After completing the SCAT 2 test, doctors typically outline a graduated recovery plan for the athletes. The plan usually begins with a period of no activity of any kind and gradually intensifies until the athletes are ready to return to play.

Concussion symptoms often can heal in as few as 10 days, but doctors handle the injuries on a case-by-case basis. For most, a first concussion rarely results in long-term damages, but multiple concussions in a short period of time can be fatal.

“What we are really worried about is what is called second impact syndrome,” Lebek said. “When you get that first concussion, it happens when your brain is healthy. If you get a second concussion while you are still recovering from that first one, it happens on an unhealthy brain.