BY HANNAH NAVA
Concussions are often associated with high-impact sports such as hockey, football, and soccer. Players are required to tackle, block, and push in an effort to prevent the other team from scoring a goal; there are constantly pileups and physical altercations, and though there is protective headgear it is still not enough. But all sports are not immune to this type of injury. Sure, an individual is not as likely to develop a concussion while bowling, but the possibility remains. And in equestrian sports, an individual is putting their safety in the hands of a horse. As trained as they may be, horses, like all animals, remain unpredictable.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “head and brain injuries are responsible for the majority of serious equestrian injuries and deaths, with the rate of concussion estimated to be between 3% and 91%.” Like all athletes who have suffered a concussion or other serious head injury, failure to report the injury for proper concussion treatment, or immediately returning back to play poses a significant health risk. Unfortunately incorrect knowledge regarding concussions is perpetuated in equestrian—and other—sports. Though your head may not feel heavy, a concussion isn’t something to be taken lightly.
What is a concussion?
According to Cerebrum Health Centers, a concussion is “a mild traumatic brain injury that is caused by force to the head … [or] transmitted to the head and results in disrupted brain function, temporarily, or permanently.” Symptoms can include headache, amnesia, and irritability. Because the symptoms can be subtle (and often can take a few hours or a few days to become present), it is necessary to get checked out by a medical professional.
While athletes understand the risk of injury from their associated sports, many do not have the appropriate education regarding concussions—or what could happen after. To keep you safe while riding, here are 9 myths about concussion recovery.
Myth #1: If you feel fine, you can refuse to seek a medic and return to riding.
As mentioned above, concussion symptoms are often subtle or delayed. An individual can feel well enough to continue the activity but only a medical professional can adequately determine the significance of the injury. According to the United States Equestrian Federation handbook, competitors are not allowed to compete “until evaluated by qualified medical personnel.” Refusal to see medical personnel results in disqualification. Competitors displaying even brief symptoms of concessions are required to take 7 for days’ mandatory suspension.
Myth #2: There are no secondary issues associated with concussions.
For some individuals symptoms such as headache or poor concentration are the only effects of a concussion. But for others a concussion can develop into something much worse. Possibilities include post-concussion syndrome, which is the continuation of concussion symptoms for weeks or months; post-traumatic headaches; and post-traumatic vertigo, which is the feeling of spinning or dizziness. These conditions can have more progressive symptoms like visual field disturbance or reading issues.
Myth #3: Wearing a helmet prevents a concussion.
While wearing a helmet can help reduce the severity of a head injury it will not protect an individual 100 percent. According to a 2014 Slate article helmets can help prevent fatal head injuries like skull fractures; they cannot help prevent concussions because the jury is still out on what causes concussions (and thus cannot be designed to prevent). Always wear a properly fitted helmet. Make sure yours meets safety standards by crosschecking products with organizations like the ASTM International.
Myth #4: Like chicken pox, you can never get concussions twice.
Unfortunately this could not be further from the truth! The Cleveland Clinic states that once an individual has a concussion, their risk is three to five times greater at developing another concussion down the road.
Myth #5: Only a hit to the head results in a concussion.
A concussion results from the brain bouncing/twisting inside the skull due to the body experiencing a sudden impact. The head does not have to experience the force directly, such as falling off a bike and hitting the concrete. Forces to the face, neck, or chest can be transmitted to the head and also cause impairment.
Myth #6: Adolescents are at a lower risk.
Children seemingly heal faster than adults when it comes to cuts, scrapes, and broken bones. The healing process for bones is faster in children, for example, because bone is being built faster than it can be replaced. But when it comes to the developing mind, the same does not ring true. Their weaker necks and lack of the same coating/insulation in adult brains makes them more susceptible to getting more serious injuries.
Myth #7: Concussions cannot result in death.
While many individuals successfully recover from a concussion with no lasting damage, some develop further complications that can be fatal, such as a blood clot in the brain. A rare but serious and potentially fatal condition is second impact syndrome, which occurs when an individual has a second concussion before the first has healed.
Myth #8: You can’t sleep with a head concussion.
Rest is actually the most important part of recovering from a head injury. Unless there is a more pressing injury that occurs because of the concussion, doctors recommend getting plenty of sleep, avoiding physical tasks/activities and limiting activities that require concentration/thinking like reading, TV, and video games.
Myth #9: Concussions heal after a day or so.
Sanford Health states that 80 to 90 percent of concussions take at least a week to heal. The worst action an individual can take is assuming they are in the clear before a medical professional releases them. Even after the concussion is healed it is necessary to ease back into the activity in which the concussion occurred.
There are a handful of organizations that work towards increasing awareness and educating individuals about the dangers of concussions. Utilize resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HEADS UP, an online resource for parents, coaches, schools, clinicians, and children regarding concussions and preventive methods. By having the knowledge at hand you’ll be ready in case something happens and ensure that you or your child will be riding for a long time!
Hannah Nava loves writing about any topic, and health/health education is no exception! She currently writes on behalf of the brain rehabilitation experts at Cerebrum Health Centers. When not marrying words, Hannah enjoys reading science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian works; sipping margaritas (always frozen); and trying to make the world a happier place. Tweet her @hannahmnava or connect with her on LinkedIn.