The Concussion Conversation

By: Mark J. Ashley, Sc.D., CCC-SLP, CCM, CBIST, President and Founder, Centre for Neuro Skills

One of the most crucial steps in evaluating and treating concussion is the realization that it truly is a potentially serious injury. For those who endure a concussion, it can seem like a harmless hit to the head after a fall or a sports injury. While the symptoms may be mild or unseen, a blow to the head can lead to headaches and problems with attention, concentration, vision, memory, balance, coordination, sleep, cardiovascular function, depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings and endocrine dysfunction. Complications may worsen, may cause additional neurological damage and may result in academic, vocational, social or legal problems.

From a clinical perspective of treating concussion since 1980, we know that proper evaluation and treatment are essential to recovery. Often sports concussion is misdiagnosed and athletes (or first grade soccer stars) are sent back into play after a mishap. Parents, coaches, and even the players can dismiss that painful jab to the head or hard fall as the price of winning.

One of the most powerful shifts in recent years is a greater awareness of concussion. As professionals in the area of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, we’ve advocated for concussion education. As researchers, clinicians, rehabilitation specialists and leaders, our focus at Centre for Neuro Skills is to treat concussion as a potentially serious brain injury and develop programs that help patients regain function and independence.

A study released in March 2017 by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests soccer, followed by volleyball, and basketball — in that order — causes the most concussions. And it’s girls, not boys, that experience them more often. Retired professional soccer player Abby Wambach wants more people to know stats like these.

“Some of the moments I feel great about are the women who are fighting for things they believe in,” says Wambach, who advocates not only for concussion awareness, but also equal representation for members of the LGBTQ community and women in sports. 

Speaking out

Wambach took to her personal Twitter account in January 2018 to help promote the concussion documentary “Shocked,” which was executive-produced by retired National Football League (NFL) player Brett Favre, pointing out the higher prevalence of girls’ concussions compared to those of boys’.

Concussion, also referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury, can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a serious, progressive, degenerative brain disease. Signs of concussion include nausea, fatigue, and confusion, though diagnosing the condition can be challenging, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute.

Health risks

The health condition and its future risks have been thrust into the national spotlight by athletes like Wambach, who are speaking out about why the issue matters to them and what they’re doing about it.

Wambach’s work for the cause spans years before, including in 2016, when she announced her plans to donate her brain to concussion research when she dies, following in the footsteps of her former U.S. women’s national soccer teammate Brandi Chastain, as reported by The Lantern.

For Wambach, concussion awareness isn’t only a timely effort — it’s a deeply personal one. She told for a 2015 story about a concussion she experienced two years prior while trying to clear a ball in the defensive zone during a game.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’ve thought 'I can muscle through this,” she told the website, “and that's something that needs to become part of our conversation that we end.”