Ahead of the Game
Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Concussion
In her work looking at post-concussion headaches and facial pain, Stephanie Nahas-Geiger, MD, MDEd, assistant professor and director of the Headache Medicine Fellowship Program at Jefferson, often sees sports-related concussions, but rarely from boxing or mixed martial arts.
“More often, we see patients who come in after playing soccer, basketball, or ice hockey, and sometimes horseback riding,” Nahas-Geiger says.
However, that doesn’t mean that boxing doesn’t pose risks for participants.
“Logic would dictate that when the
object in the sport is to hit the opponent
in the head as much as you can, by nature, it’s going to be dangerous,” she says.
The American Academy of Neurology estimates that each year 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions result from sports and recreational injuries. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has estimated that
90 percent of boxers suffer some kind of brain injury while playing.
“Without a doubt, the ‘fighting’ sports are causing concussion and traumatic encephalopathy as a consequence of repeated concussion,” she says.
In general, the attention the recent media has placed on concussion as related to the NFL, and the attendant long-term health risks posed to its players, has helped educate the public about sports concussions specifically and concussions in general.
“The conversation has changed over the past couple of decades,” Nahas-Geiger says. “People used to believe myths like you have to keep someone awake all night if you suspect a concussion or that someone who is concussed must be unconscious. Most people now know that these ideas are not true.”
In fact, she says, the concussed brain needs rest to restore function, and staying awake is likely counterproductive.
Researchers studying animal models have revealed that the brain continues to change for weeks and months after an initial injury, impacting neural processes, neurotransmitters, and neurosignaling. Traumatic brain injury can cause functional problems with thinking, sensation, language, and emotion processing. Over the long term, there may be increased risk of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders.
“There is much more work to be done
in this area, but we know that there are disruptions caused by concussion,” Nahas-Geiger says.