Athlete’s Perspective on Concussion:
When I was in my first year of university, I competed on two competitive cheerleading teams and various clubs that I was apart of – all while balancing the academic demands of a Kinesiology undergraduate program. One night at a cheerleading practice, I received an elbow to the head. The team trainer performed an assessment and had me sit out for the rest of the practice. She told me I had suffered a concussion, and that I should rest and take it easy for the next few days. In the days following, I experienced minor headaches but I brushed it off. I was unaware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion at that time and the seriousness with which they should be treated.
A few days later, I found myself at my other cheerleading team practice. At the time, I was feeling okay so I decided to try some tumbling. As soon as my head hit the mat I knew something was wrong. I was immediately pulled out of practice and told to go home.
Afterwards, I saw a Sports Physician and Neurologist (specializing in concussions) where I was diagnosed with “Second Impact Syndrome.” Second Impact Syndrome occurs when an athlete receives a second head injury while they are still recovering from the symptoms of a previous concussion. The Neurologist told me to rest and minimize both cognitive and physically demanding tasks. For me, this meant not going to my classes, getting notes from friends, no sports and no physical activity. Unfortunately, I was not very good at sitting still and “doing nothing.” I agreed to stay out of sport but still attempted to attend classes and complete tests and assignments like normal. I now know that by throwing myself back into my daily routine too soon, I was actually hindering my own recovery. It took almost 8 months for me to feel symptom-free. Once I learned how to listen to my own body and gradually reintroduce cognitive and physical tasks at the discretion of my health care team, the healing process began.
What is toughness?
Like most athletes, I thought that I was being a good teammate by “pushing through the pain” and “sucking it up.” In sports and activities, toughness is often commended and even glorified. Moreover, athletes feel it is their duty to their teammates and fear that others will hold it against them or be mad at them if they don’t train, compete, or play the full game. I now realize that there is nothing tough about pushing through a concussion.
In actuality, it is much tougher to remove yourself from a practice, game, competition or tournament when a concussion is suspected. It is tougher to admit to yourself, your teammates, your coaches, your teachers, and your health care professionals that you don’t feel quite right. It is hard to be a “patient” and allow your body and your brain the time it needs to heal.
My personal experience as an athlete with a concussion has shaped the way I now practice as a Physiotherapist. It takes a great deal of courage to put your own health first. To all the athletes out there, I hope that you can learn from my experiences and realize that recovery is possible post concussion. With trained professionals to help you through the process, the road to recovery can be a less bumpy ride.
Have you or your child suffered a concussion? Share your experience and let us know what worked best for you!
By: Natalie Langstaff