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Concussions affect VUSD athletes, can cause serious, long-term side effects

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Concussions affect VUSD athletes, can cause serious, long-term side effects

Glenda Marshall

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Concussions are often more serious and more prevalent in adolescents than they are in other age groups. Credit: Bethany Fankhauser/The Foothill Dragon Press

Concussions are often more serious and more prevalent in adolescents than they are in other age groups. Credit: Bethany Fankhauser/The Foothill Dragon Press

Junior Blake Silva doesn’t remember getting up or being helped onto the bench; he can only recall the second he was pushed by an aggressive opponent and his head collided with the concrete bordering the field.

“I tripped and we were on the football field playing so we were on the turf, and when I tripped I kind of, like, somersaulted and hit my head on the concrete,” Silva said.

Silva, then a freshman playing on Ventura High School’s junior varsity soccer team, was in the midst of an important game against rival Buena High School, and was immediately removed from the game.

The severity of the hit caused large amounts of liquid to pour from Silva’s mouth and nose.

“I hit so hard that it just jarred everything. I got really dizzy,” he said.

Silva learned later that day that he had gotten a minor concussion and was forced to sit out from practice the rest of the week.

“It was scary. I remember hearing people scream because I guess it looked really bad. It was definitely painful,” Silva said.

Concussions fairly common for athletes, take extra toll on teenagers

A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a blow to the head. Concussions temporarily affect the way your brain functions and, in serious cases, can cause permanent damage.

Silva is far from the only athlete to be taken out of play for a concussion. According to the Centers of Disease Control, 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year.

Particularly concerning for high school athletes is the maturity, or lack thereof, of the teenage brain.

“At that age [athletes] certainly aren’t done developing. They aren’t fully functional yet,” health teacher Claire Adams said. “I am not a professional, but there has to be some consequence for all that banging around.”

The brain does not fully develop until around age 25, and damage to the brain before maturity can increase the severity of an injury.

Due to this, concussions in teenagers may take a greater toll on the brain than they do on adults. {sidebar id=69}

“You are still making all kinds of connections. You are still building bridges and all of your neurons are still trying to make those cross connections and figure out how to talk to each other,” physiology and medical technology teacher Mika Anderson said. “There are certain aspects of the brain that are still developing throughout your teenage years.”

It was previously believed that teenagers could bounce back from a concussion easier than adults, however this has now been disproved. 

Anderson also sees concussions as slightly more dangerous than other sports injuries because of the significant value of the brain.

“If you injure your femur it doesn’t affect your personality,” Anderson said.

The recent suicide of Junior Seau has shone light onto the issue of mental disorders induced by concussions. Doctors believe that Seau’s death was a result of depression caused by the constant head collisions.

Seau shot himself in the chest so the damage to his brain could be investigated.

Another NFL player Jovan Belcher, who shot his girlfriend before killing himself in front of his coaches, was also suspected to have a brain disorder.

Professionals reccomend that athletes are aware of their body and speak up to prevent such brain disorders from developing.

Junior Emmy Manset knew something was wrong after landing on her head in a high school soccer game. She was later diagnosed with a minor concussion.

“The whole night I felt nauseous and I had a headache. My mom didn’t know if that was just a reaction or if I had a concussion so she had to take me to the emergency room,” Manset said.

The fact that you cannot see concussions is what makes them particularly dangerous and hard to identify.

Contrary to popular belief, most athletes do not lose consciousness as a result of a concussion, making it more difficult to identify the severity of the blow. They may get a bump on their head where they experienced the initial hit, but this is not always the case.

Manset did not pass out when she was hit.

“I did not pass out, only dizzy afterward,” Manset said.

Concussion risk high in teenage athletes

According to the Morbidity and Mortality weekly report of October 7, 2011, 65% of minor TBIs occurring annually appear in children between the ages of 5 and 18.

Potential for concussions is greatest where impact and head bumping is most common. According to Momsteam.com, concussions in high school sports are most common in football for males and soccer for females.

“In football everyone is just hitting each other all of the time. The job of the linemen is to hit the opponents,” Buena High School football player and Foothill junior Andrew Morastica said.

Although football players are required to wear helmets, they are still not safe from head on collisions with other players.

According to this organization, a minor concussion is suffered in every high school football game.

Junior Andrew Nyznyk is a varsity football player for Ventura High School and sees the constant injuries as part of the nature of football.

“My coaches always call it controlled violence,” he said. “There is just a ton of weight flying around, which is why you see so many injuries.”

Despite the high risk and evident danger, research has found that most high school football players are not concerned with concussions. 

“Sometimes I wonder why my brain isn’t destroyed, but I don’t think about it often,” Nyznyk said.

In soccer, most concussions are suffered from head-to-head collisions between athletes.

“You see a lot of head-on-head hits right near the goal, and you see them a lot,” Ventura High School sophomore Lila Johnston said.

Students unlikely to report concussions

Because many serious high school athletes are unlikely to report injuries, concussions are often overlooked by coaches, parents, and teammates.

Returning to play before the concussion is entirely healed can lead to increased chances of severe injury or even death.

“There are a number of theories thinking that the brain hasn’t repaired itself, so if a player gets a concussion and it’s not done recovering or healing, the damage can be made even worse,” health teacher Kurt Miller said.

Sophomore McKenna Cole, who plays soccer for Buena High School, suffered a concussion earlier this year. She feels that intense coaches often push athletes to return to play before they are totally healed

“Most of the time they make you play through it and afterwards you go to the doctor,” she said. “And they pretty much expect you to play the next day.”

Receiving a second concussion before the first has healed is extremely dangerous. Should this occur, the athlete could experience second impact syndrome, or swelling of the brain.

{sidebar id=70} After an athlete has suffered a concussion, they are three to six times more likely to receive another than a student who has never had a concussion.

Hannah Everson, a 15-year-old ski racer in Mammoth, California, has had three concussions. Her most recent was her most severe and she was unable to ski for a month.

“They get worse as they go on… Even if you hit your head less, the more [concussions] you’ve had, the worse your symptoms are,” Everson said.

Ventura Unified working to reduce sport-induced concussions

A new CIF rule, CIF Bylaw 313, mandates that any athlete suspected of having a concussion must be removed from the game or practice at once. Athletes who have experienced a head injury cannot return to play that day regardless of how minor their injury appears. Before returning to the field, the athlete must receive written clearance from a licensed health care provider.

Ventura Unified School District athletic programs are taking steps to uphold this rule and to protect athletes.

“We’ve always been aware of the danger of concussions, but the number one thing we are trying to encourage is to make sure that coaches are aware of symptoms because a lot of the time kids won’t tell their coach if they are injured,” Ventura High School athletic director David Hess said. “ We want to make sure they aren’t overlooked and stuck back in.”

Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, athletes from Buena High School and Ventura High School must sign a paper regarding concussions before being allowed to participate in their sport.

The paper requires a signature from both the athlete and their parent stating that they understand concussion symptoms, understand the severity of concussions, and will report any signs of concussions to their coach.

Senior Natalie Waechter, a former Buena High School swimmer and soccer player, thinks that the new forms will only provide some improvements.

“I think that in the really intense sports… it may help,” Waechter said. “But someone who is that intense of an athlete will get a concussion either way. To get an injury like that you really have to be a killer. ”

Hess does not believe that the rules will help prevent concussions but that it will help keep injured athletes out of play.

“If an athlete is going to fall and hit their head or crash into someone else, signing a paper isn’t going to stop them. Even the best football helmet can’t stop them from hitting the ground,” he said. “But by being aware, we can prevent these injuries from turning into something worse.”

Return to play

Silva was able to return to play a week after his diagnosis

Although he quit the Ventura High School soccer team during his sophomore year, Silva continues to play club soccer and play in the seasonal community league.

He says that his concussion had no part in his decision to quit the soccer team.

“It was just really demanding and I had harder classes. I didn’t really have time for it and I figured it would be better if I did it more for fun rather than extremely serious like high school is,” Silva said.

Silva didn’t experience long-term effects, but he did suffer from small obstacles his first days back in play.

“If I played or ran too long I got winded faster. I got tired faster and I had a headache on and off throughout the next day,” Silva said.

Silva had no memory or sleep loss and feels that he has fully recovered.

“Now I am totally fine,” Silva said. “I think that severe head injuries can be pretty easily avoided just by being cautious. Just don’t play aggressively to the point where that can happen and you will be perfectly fine.”

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Concussions affect VUSD athletes, can cause serious, long-term side effects