When you experience a blow to the head, knowing whether you've suffered a concussion isn't always clear cut.
"It's critical for parents, coaches, players and trainers to recognize the potential signs and symptoms of a concussion," says Jeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist who treats athletes at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. "The basic rule is that a concussion can affect any aspect of brain function."
Signs of Concussion
The Latin root of the word "concussion" means "to shake violently" — which makes sense. Concussions happen when there's a combination of movement and impact. So, any injury that involves a hit to the head — a fall, collision or hard hit by a heavy object — could cause one. So could a hit to the body that causes the head to move quickly.
"But every brain injury is different," Dr. Kutcher says. "Some symptoms show up right away while others develop gradually over days."
Here are common concussion symptoms to watch for — both immediately following a head injury and in the hours and days after:
Physical Concussion Symptoms
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty with balance
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Light sensitivity
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to sound
- Visual problems
Emotional Concussion Symptoms
- Mood swings
Cognitive Concussion Symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling "slow" or "foggy"
- Memory problems
Diagnosing Concussion: Getting It Right
One reason concussions are frequently misdiagnosed is because they're assessed on the field or courtside during game play or practice. Coaches, trainers and parents often make lightning fast decisions about whether symptoms, such as headache, nausea and light sensitivity, are signs of concussion.
"Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than completing a concussion checklist. Everyone — and every concussion — is different. So, observers shouldn’t be diagnosing a head injury on the spot, but rather making a triage decision for safety. They should leave the diagnosis to the medical professionals," Dr. Kutcher says. In fact, those in-the-moment assessments are wrong about half of the time.
People should focus instead on getting immediate, emergency care for anyone who displays the following signs and symptoms right after a hit:
- Difficulty walking
- Weakness on one or both sides
- Not waking up
- Repeated vomiting
- Persistent confusion
No matter how hard (or lightly) you think you've been hit, it's important to take head injury symptoms seriously. Even a seemingly minor blow could have a major impact. A complete evaluation by a medical professional will not only determine whether you have a concussion, it can also identify more serious, or even life-threatening, concerns.
"In every case, medical professionals are better equipped to assess the extent of the damage if you have a comprehensive baseline evaluation on file," Dr. Kutcher says. This thorough evaluation with a sports neurologist, including a complete family and neurological history, can act as a critical point of reference when trainers and medical professionals are trying to diagnose or manage a concussion.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is a sports neurologist and the medical director of the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.
Visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.
BLOOMINGDALE — If Scott Allison looks bored during one of Bloomingdale’s sporting events, that is a good thing.
“Trainers like to be behind the scenes and in the shadows,” the certified athletic trainer said. “We’re only needed in emergencies.
“It’s one of those jobs that if we’re sitting around looking bored, then things are going well.”
But if an athlete goes down with an injury, Allison is quick to run onto the court or field.
In his first year at Bloomingdale, he has found that working with middle and high school students is a lot different than his previous work with the minor-league hockey Kalamazoo Wings.
Treating the hockey team, with whom he spent much of his 22 years, “There was a lot of traumatic stuff like lacerations or deep contusions, overuse injuries like hip flexors or core injuries or broken bones.
“Everything’s acute and fast. It’s a different animal. In hockey, they’re all pro athletes so they know their bodies really well.”
However, high school and middle school athletes are still in a growing phase.
“These kids don’t really know what’s going on a lot of times, so it’s a lot more education on what’s happening,” Allison said.
“Is it an injury, or is it just soreness? You get a lot of kids that don’t understand the difference between aches and pains or an injury. We see a lot of ankle sprains or shin splints because they’re just developing. They’re in that awkward range where their bodies try to grow too fast.”
Allison is the Cardinals’ first certified athletic trainer, a new position for which athletic director Jason Hayes campaigned.
“What we notice is that if a kid’s injured, they’re out a lot less if you have a trainer because it speeds up recovery time,” said Hayes, who also coaches varsity football and is an assistant wrestling coach. “It’s like having a built-in physical therapist on your staff, too.”
Studies support Hayes’ statements.
According to information from The Sports Institute at University of Washington, “‘The athletic trainers know the athletes,” says Stan Herring, M.D., cofounder of The Sports Institute at (University of Washington) Medicine and a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners. “They see the athletes frequently, if not every day. They know when something is wrong. They are medical professionals who evaluate, treat and rehabilitate athletes.’”
The article continued: “Three recent studies suggest that athletic trainers are linked to significant improvements in the diagnosis of concussion in young athletes and significant reductions in ‘time-loss’ injuries that require athletes to take time away from sports.”
Allison sees himself as a teacher as well as a trainer.
“We see a lot more strains or growth issues,” he said. “A lot of it is maintenance and teaching kids what’s going on with their bodies or what they need to do to change things.”
He also meets with parents and coaches to talk about the best way to prevent injuries.
Allison’s day begins about 1:30 or 2 p.m., giving athletes a chance to talk with him before practices or games.
During the action, he always has his first aid backpack filled with the basics: air splints for fractures or dislocations, AED, EpiPens, and bench kits (with taping and bandaging supplies, splints, gauze, ACE wraps, ice bags, latex gloves and other basic first aid supplies.)
He travels with the teams when they are involved in high-impact sports, such as football, and many times he is also called to treat an opposing player if that team has no trainer.
Allison is a perfect fit with Bloomingdale, Hayes said.
His wife, Kirsten, coached the Cardinals girls basketball team for seven years. His daughter Emma, now at Glen Oaks Community College, graduated from there, and his daughter Bailey is an eighth grader.
“We are a very lucky town,” Hayes said. “We had Doc (Robert) Stevens, who had been volunteering as our athletic trainer for 15 years. He’s just aging out.
“About a year ago, he came to me and said that it was his last year. Scott has 22 years experience, and he has relationships here. To me, it was a no-brainer.”
Assistant varsity football coach Lance Flynn, who also coaches the middle school football team, saw Allison in action during competition in the fall.
“First quarter in a middle school football game, a kid broke his arm,” Flynn said. “My own son, Ryder, was on the varsity team and he sprained his AC socket and Scott took care of him.
“If something happens during a game, they can go see him and I don’t have to worry much because I know they’re in good hands.”
Allison’s affiliation with Bronson Sports Medicine is also a plus, the trainer said.
“With Bronson, we can offer a lot more and expedite getting in to see doctors or specialists if we need to,” he said. “We’re on the same system as the doctors, so we can diagnose and send notes to the doctors and they can send notes back to us.
“If there’s anybody we need to keep track of with the doctors, I can talk with the doctors and figure out how that’s going. If anybody needs to see me, they know I’m here early if they just want to come down to talk.”
Bronson also provides certified athletic trainers at 21 other southwest Michigan high schools: Brooke Vandepolder (Battle Creek Central), Lindsay Aarseth-Lindhorst (Climax-Scotts), Amanda Monsivaes (Comstock), Makenzie Hodgson (Delton Kellogg), Salvador Robles-Soriano (Gobles), Holly Ives (Richland Gull Lake), Katelyn Baker-Contreras (Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep), Lizzy Smith (Kalamazoo Central), Emma Beener (Kalamazoo Christian), Holly Sisson (Kalamazoo Loy Norrix), Nico Talentino (Mattawan), Aaron Eickhoff (Otsego), Quincey Powell (Parchment), Malorie Most (Paw Paw), Jessica Bakhuyzen (Plainwell), Lance LeTourneau (Portage Central), Janelle Currie (Portage Northern), Carrie Calhoun (Schoolcraft), Chelsea Harrison (South Haven), Alexis Walters (Three Rivers) and Natalie McClish (Vicksburg).
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Bloomingdale trainer Scott Allison has several tasks as he works to keep the school’s student-athletes healthy and pain-free. (Middle) Bloomingdale athletic director Jason Hayes, left, and assistant varsity football coach Lance Flynn. (Below) Allison packs his bag for another full afternoon. (Ankle-taping photo by Andreya Robinson; all other photos by Pam Shebest.)