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Wellness Matters: The Hidden Dangers of Head Injuries

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

With football and soccer season in full swing, so is the risk of sports-related head injuries. Concussions are the most common brain injury, affecting up to four million people a year. A concussion occurs when the brain is jarred or shaken hard enough to bounce against the skull. Common causes include a fall, a collision or a direct blow to the head.

Concussions range from mild to severe, and so do the symptoms. “Because the signs of a concussion are often subtle, some people have concussions and don’t realize it,” says Dr. M. Anthony Casolaro, Head Team Physician, Washington Redskins and President, Medical Staff at Virginia Hospital Center. “An undiagnosed concussion is potentially dangerous, so it’s important that people learn to identify the symptoms and recognize when to seek medical treatment.”

Concussion Basics

Contact sports such as soccer, football, rugby and hockey increase the risk of head injury and concussion. The best treatment for concussion is prevention and early recognition. Here’s some basic information that players, parents, coaches and teammates should know:

  • Wear appropriate headgear. The right helmet or other protective equipment can help prevent physical trauma to the head. Make sure the equipment fits properly and is well maintained.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of concussion. They include dizziness, headache, nausea, sleepiness, irritability, light sensitivity, visual spatial problems, poor concentration and short-term memory difficulty.
  • Share your symptoms. Athletes need to report when they have symptoms, such as seeing stars or feeling dizzy.
  • When in doubt, sit it out. If a concussion is suspected, stop playing and get medical attention right away. Players who stay in the game and suffer another concussion within a short interval are at risk for a severe neurological condition.
  • Rest your brain. Rest is the most appropriate way to allow your brain to recover from a concussion. For the first few days after a concussion, avoid physical or mental exertion. Reduce screen time, including smartphones, computers, video games and TV. Limit visitors and stimulation.
  • Don’t rush your recovery. Avoid physical exertion, including sports or any vigorous activities, until symptoms are gone. Return to play gradually and work back up through light activity, aerobic activity, non-contact practice and contact activity. At each stage, evaluate for symptoms.

Remember, an emergency is a condition that is considered life-threatening or could cause impairment. If you experience a serious injury to your head, call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency department. You should then seek follow-up treatment with your primary care physician who will determine next steps.

To find a primary care physician, go to Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group – Primary Care.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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