Medical experts say be aware of sports-related concussions

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Dr. Jody Mitchell. a sports medicine physician with Owensboro Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, talks with former Kentucky Wesleyan College football center Cole Crume in an examination room Thursday at the hospital in Owensboro.

As a center for Kentucky Wesleyan College, Cole Crume got knocked around a lot on the football field.

But one game -- his last for the Panthers -- in October 2018 sidelined him for good.

"Through the course of the game, I kept getting hit in the side of the head," Crume said.

His ears started to ring. His sense of balance went wonky. By the end of the game, Crume could hear coaches talking, but he couldn't comprehend what they were saying.

He knew something was wrong, but he didn't report it during the game because he feared being taken off the field.

After shaking hands with the opposing team at the end of the game, Crume walked over to Alex Vogel, an Owensboro Health athletic trainer who is located at KWC.

"I told Alex I was pretty messed up," Crume said.

He was.

Crume suffered from a concussion that night.

The next morning, Vogel gave Crume a computerized cognitive evaluation and referred him to Dr. Jody Mitchell, who practices at OH Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. It took Crume up to three months to recover. During that time, he needed physical therapy and academic accommodations.

This spring, Crume, a senior health sciences student, still suffered from strong migraines and sharp pains that he associated with his concussion. Although Crume attended KWC on a football scholarship, he decided to quit the sport he had played since he was 5 years old.

"At this point, I'm not going to the NFL. It's not worth it to risk another injury," he said.

Mitchell applauded that decision.

It's football and soccer season. Both are rough-and-tumble games.

Mitchell treats a fair number of children who suffer from sports-related concussions. "It's not uncommon for me to have five kids on Monday morning," he said of his walk-in clinic.

Across the nation, it is estimated 283,000 kids wind up in emergency departments annually for sports-related brain injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Football, bicycling, basketball, playground activities and soccer account for the highest number of emergency department visits," the agency reports.

Last year, Congress passed the Traumatic Brain Injury Program Reauthorization Act. The bill gave the CDC the authority to form the National Concussion Surveillance System, which is expected to gather more accurate estimates and causes for concussions.

After a hard knock on the noggin, people should watch for signs of weakness, vomiting, deterioration of mental status or difficulty waking. Those are signs they need emergent care, Mitchell said.

Crume described his concussion: "It's like when you wake up from a really long nap and you're confused."

There are common misconceptions when it comes to sports-related concussions, Mitchell said.

For example, until a year or two ago, doctors recommended "rest is best." While that may be true during the first 24 to 48 hours, studies now show that exercise that raises the heart rate leads to a faster recovery.

Don't abandon routines, he said. Instead, accommodate them so the patient can return to his regular routine as soon as possible.

Mitchell also feels CAT scans are overused on kids who go to an ED with a sports-related concussion. A very high percentage of those neuro images come back normal. Besides a CAT scan being equivalent to 100 X-rays on a child, they are expensive.

To avoid concussions, the CDC offers these tips for people of all ages:

• Wear a seat belt and use a safety seat for children.

• Wear a helmet that fits properly when bicycling, riding a motorcycle, skating, skiing, horseback riding or playing contact sports.

• Prevent falls in the home by using grab bars in the bathroom and handrails on stairs, placing nonslip mats in the bathtub and on floors, remove trip hazards, improve lighting and install safety gates by stairs for young children.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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