Knocked out: athletes face concussions

For Tricia O’Neill, the end of her freshman year in high school brought excruciating headaches and a crushing diagnosis: a severe concussion that prevented her from going to school for the last three months of the year.

While playing in a soccer tournament in mid-March, O’Neill headed a ball, and although she felt more pain than normal, she did not immediately feel the effects and continued to play for the rest of the weekend. On Monday, however, she woke up with a painful headache which lasted for the rest of the week.

“The doctor originally told me it was caused by allergies, but the trainers at Annandale had me take the concussion impact test. When it came back, I found out that I had a concussion and wasn’t allowed to play soccer or do any physical activity for two weeks,” O’Neill said.

Not only do concussions prevent athletic activity, they also severely impact academics.

“My problem was that I couldn’t make it through the school day without getting really bad headaches. In school, I was sort of half-way there, almost like I was watching what was happening but not really participating. I was told that I had to stop anything that caused the headaches so my recovery progress wasn’t delayed, which meant I had to go on the home tutoring program for the last part of the year,” O’Neill said.

Although having a three month break sounds like fun, O’Neill did face obstacles with the hiatus. “At first I thought it was going be fun, but it was hard because instead of learning the material I had to just make sure i had all the work done. I had each class once a week for three hours at a time,” O’Neill said.

Sophomore Kim Rowland has also suffered in school after getting a concussion during a field hockey game this year.
“The opposing player took a free hit and it went off of someone’s stick and smacked me in the head. It has impacted me in school a lot. It is really hard to focus and complete my work. Whenever I try and do my school work I get really bad headaches and have to stop what I’m doing. It gets me really behind,” Rowland said.

Concussions are especially common in high contact sports such as football and basketball. “[The majority of concussions at AHS are seen in] football, soccer, lacrosse and wrestling,” said athletic trainer Kathy Ayers.

“I’ve had two concussions but the worst was one I got my sophomore year against South County in football. I ran a slant route and after I caught the ball I got gang tackled by half the defense. I don’t remember anything from that night except two of my teammates telling me I’d be fine,” said senior Nathan Clayton.

Junior Kelly Hughes also suffered from memory loss after a concussion during a basketball tournament. “I was going for a rebound against two big girls and I got sandwiched. The momentum pulled me to the ground and I fell and hit my head. I couldn’t really remember anything that happened after, my teammates had to explain it all to me. The headaches after were brutal and I also got bad migraines.”

Concussion tests are used to asses the function of the brain and the impact the injury had. The exam measures such things as reaction time, memory, and other cognitive functions.
“You take it [the test] as symptoms improve. It’s very indivdual based and depends on how long symptoms last,” said Ayers.

According to ImPACT, a company which created the ImPACT concussion test, an online exam which can process and diagnose the symptoms and signs after a head injury. The 20-minute test examines cognitive reactions in six different modules.

The test is very important in determining the severity of the concussion. “I’ve failed the test twice so I haven’t been able to start playing again,” said Rowland.
Recovery from the injury depends on each person, as well as the severity of the concussion. “There’s not much you can do to make it go faster. Anything that starts to give you a headache you basically have to back away from. It’s really important to know your limits,” O’Neill said.

“[General recovery] is anywhere from seven days to months. Symptoms subside usually in two weeks,” said Ayers.

Despite the lingering pains of last years injury, O’Neill has returned to school and is recovering quickly. “Although I still occasionally get headaches, they’re not as bad and I can get through the school day fine,” O’Neill said.

The symptoms and severity of concussions vary from case to case, but it is imperative that those with headaches after an impact injury to the head be checked out by a medical professional.