Concussions are a serious problem for all athletes, but medical experts say these injuries are too often overlooked.
When there is any suspicion of concussion, an athlete should be removed from play until he or she has been evaluated by a qualified health care provider, says Scott Livingston, a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer who specializes in sports concussion evaluation and management at the University of Kentucky.
“It’s important to remember that a concussion, even a ‘mild’ one, is a traumatic brain injury that can have lasting consequences,” Livingston says. “Symptoms may not be immediately apparent, so it’s important to get checked out any time there has been a significant impact to the head.”
Many people wrongly assume that a concussion can be ruled out if an athlete has not been knocked unconscious, Livingston says. In fact, most concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness. Symptoms include headache, dizziness or light-headedness, blurred vision, and ringing in the ears, all of which are signs of neurological deficits.
Athletes who sustain moderate-to-severe hits to the head often exhibit an immediate response involving an unnatural positioning of the arms, observable from the sidelines. The “fencing response” was first described in 2009 by Jonathan Lifshitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky’s Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center. The fencing response provides an immediate visual clue that makes it difficult to overlook sports-related concussions.
The fencing response is a rigid forearm posture following a head injury that resembles the en garde position in fencing or a defensive boxing pose.
As an involuntary reaction to head trauma, the fencing response indicates damage to parts of the brain stem that control balance.
Stimulated in part by this recent medical discovery, UK HealthCare is launching a Multidisciplinary Concussion Program to promote clinical care, research, and education. To learn more, go online to www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu and search “sports concussion” in the search box.