Concussion and it's dangers Part 1

Hi, and welcome to my blog. In this two part article i will be discussing the ongoing and sometimes life changing side effects of blows to the head and concussions. Part 1 will outlines the physical implecations. Part 2 will discuss the long term psychological/emotional issues that can occur.

 Are you suffering from mood swings or mental confusion? Do you have ongoing neck pain or headaches? Have you lower back and hip pain?

...Ever had a Head Injury? 

...This could be the cause.

 ...The possible life changing effects of concussions, blows to the head and whiplash injuries.

 Listening to the radio this week I was interested and happy to hear them discussing concussion in sport, especially football. The discussion was around the massive change in concussion protocol at football matches in the past 10 years. In the past if a footballer took a knock to the head he was dragged to the side line, asked his name and his whereabouts and then sent back on to the field. Nowadays a player is pulled off the field, attended by a medico and not allowed to play for at least a week. At last awareness of the debilitating effects of concussion is rising.

 Most of us, at some point in our lives will sustain a blow to the head of some sort.  The typical response is to swear, hold the banged area of our head, wait for the pain to subside then continue on, thinking little of it. A few hours or a day later, we forget all about it.

For many people this is the only head trauma they will experience. For others, the situation can be far worse with a life time of insidious side effects ranging from mental, emotional disorders to serious physical issues.

 So what is a head injury? One of the first things I ask my clients is, “Have you ever had a head injury?”Nine times out of ten their first response is, ”No”.

When I question them a little further, they  remember that, yes, they have had  a blow to the head, or a whiplash injury from a car accident or got knocked out playing footy etc. But they never thought of it as a head injury. Pretty normal. Everyone gets knocked around at some point in their life, don’t they?

  So, just to be clear, in the context of this article and my Kinesiology practice, a head injury is any blow to the head, light or hard, any whipping motion of the head and neck (even if the head did not strike anything), or any jarring action on the neck or head.

 These can be sustained in virtually any kind of sport where a collision is possible. Contact sports obviously being the most common. Or a car accident, a whip lash injury, slipping down a kerb causing a sharp jolt or jarring effect.

 So why is this so dangerous and what are the long term effects of this injury?

We have known, for a very long time that sustained blows to the head, e.g. from boxing, can cause brain damage. Commonly referred to as being “Punch Drunk”. The term was first used in 1928 by New Jersey, medical examiner Harrison Martland, to describe the symptoms associated with repeated head trauma.

   It has only been quite recently however that the effects of other contact sports such as: football, rugby, grid iron, ice hockey, soccer etc.  also have a similar effect. Many retired sports people are suffering the long term effects of those blows to the head. Depression, anxiety, mental confusion, drug and alcohol abuse, ongoing pain from old injuries that are not healing.

  Why is this happening? What can be done to alleviate these long term effects or reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the first place?

 To answer these questions let’s explore the following:

 What happens when you get a blow to the head?

  Let’s take a whiplash injury as an example.  You are in your car at the traffic lights and another car ploughs into the back of you. The shock wave from the collision travels through the car and hits you. Your body flies forward and is instantly stopped by the seat belt. Your head, on the other hand, is not secured. As your body slams into the seat belt, your head catapults forward, slamming to a halt when it cannot move any further.

The instant your head starts to move forward a neurological defense pattern kicks in to protect it. The muscles on the back of the neck suddenly contract as fast and hard as possible to prevent the head moving too far forward and crashing into something. Due to the extreme movement of your head, the posterior soft tissue is traumatised. Micro tears occur in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, blood vessels, etc.

Then your head whips backward, partly due to momentum and partly due to the sudden contraction of the posterior neck muscles now pulling the head back. And then the same soft tissue injuries occur at the front of the neck. The head can continue whipping back a forth several times until the car comes to a rest and the shock wave has dissipated. While all this is happening, several other neurological reflexes also kick in. You whole body goes into fight flight, releasing a dump of adrenaline. Your jaw muscles and the muscles across the head clamp down tight. This reflex continues up through the skull, down the neck, into the spine and hips. As a result, your head is locked down tight onto the neck, the shoulder muscles contract, locking the shoulders tight, the spine, sacrum, coccyx and hips all lock down tight to protect the spine and posterior part of the body.

All these muscle contract very tightly. In order for this to happen their opposite (antagonist) muscles must relax. So now we have an extreme muscle imbalance pulling the neck, shoulders, spine and hips together.

On top of this, the brain is colliding with the interior of the skull. Where it strikes the skull, micro damage can occur to the brain (bleeds, neuron damage etc.). This can cause unconsciousness and concussion.

  A similar process can also happen when you get struck in playing contact sports or experience a fall, (the shock wave can travel straight up the spine into the skull causing a concussion).

  The end results can be extreme pain in the neck, shoulders and back, confusion, foggy thinking, disorientation, tiredness,to name but a few.

 After medical attention and physiotherapy the pain gradually subsides, your head clears and you get back on with life.

Even though it appears as though we have made a recovery, it doesn’t end there. 

 Remember the neurological reflexes that caused your muscles to tighten for protection? Sometimes this reflex does not get released. The upshot of this is a muscle imbalance pattern throughout the whole body, which can cause a whole host of issues. The muscle tension across your joints is not balanced therefore pulling the joints out of alignment. So, you get neck, shoulder, back and hip pain that never seem to quite go away. The constant muscle contraction means those muscles never get to fully rest and recover. Which means they constantly ache.   

One school of thought is that is can also cause idiopathic scoliosis, where the muscles on one side of the spine are too strong and on the other, too weak, pulling the spine out of alignment. If this kind of injury occurs before or during puberty, the spine itself can deform causing a lifetime of issues.

  So that’s the possible physical outcome. Part two of this article will discuss the possible psychological/emotional issues that can result from the brain colliding with the skull...

 My name is Martin Carson. I am a Professional Kinesiologist with more than 10 years experience.

I am passionate about helping people recover from these injuries.

 If you have suffered a blow to the head or are a parent of a child involved in contact sports and you are concerned about ongoing effects, then please contact me for more information.