Athletes and Concussions

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Left to right: Bruce Karlin, M.D., Lauren Smith, M.D., Alan Ashare, M.D.  on Physician Focus during September.

The injury somehow earned its own vocabulary: It was a “ding” or “getting your bell rung,” and it used to be “graded” according its suspected severity. But a concussion is actually a traumatic brain injury, and that brings on a whole new meaning.

“A concussion is a malfunction of the brain caused by a jolt to the head or body,” says Alan Ashare, M.D., a physician at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center Boston and Chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Student Health and Sports Medicine.

That description - a ‘malfunction of the brain’ - certainly grabs your attention and makes you think differently about the injury.

Adds Lauren Smith, M.D., Medical Director for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: “There’s no such thing as a mild concussion. Anytime someone suffers a concussion and has the symptoms, we don’t know how significant the danger will be until we see how long the symptoms last.”

Dr. Smith and Dr. Ashare, who is also Chair of the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Medical Committee, are the featured guests on Concussions, the September edition of Physician Focus, joining host Bruce Karlin, M.D. to discuss the causes of concussions, their health consequences, and the actions being taken to prevent and reduce their incidence. The conversation also includes the basics of the new regulations from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to protect players in school-based activities.

The program is another collaborative effort among the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and HCAM-TV.

The heightened focus on concussions at all levels of sports – from the professional ranks down to the youth leagues – is welcome and long overdue. Medical research has shown that this kind of injury can lead to serious long-term health effects. And the injury is perhaps more widespread than thought: some 36,000 student-athletes in Massachusetts experience a possible concussion in sports-related activities each year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Nationally, the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control estimates that some 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur each year, with 75 percent of those being concussions.

I invite you to join us in September for Concussions, providing important information for those participating in sports - at all levels.