Nov. 18, 2010
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
With the topic of concussions in sports coming to the forefront of national news, Cal State Northridge Athletics, in partnership with KCET News, investigated the effects of the injury on the Matadors' women's basketball team in order to educate the student-athletes, their families and the public about concussion symptoms and possible long-term effects. The NCAA has recently revamped its policy and guidelines for concussions and treatment and has outlined some causes and symptoms.
A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that can result from blows to the head either from contact with another player, hitting a hard surface such as the ground, ice or floor, or being hit by a piece of equipment.
Concussions can be hard to detect because most do not lead to a loss of consciousness. Some symptoms that are common with concussions include confusion, amnesia, balance problems, headache or visual disturbances.
Concussions can happen to any player at any time, even when there is incidental contact involved. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that high school football, women's soccer and men's and women's basketball have the highest rate of injury.
KCET arrived on the campus of Cal State Northridge to document the phenomenon specifically in women's hoops. Two Matadors, Janelle Nomura and Bridgette Conejo, elected to speak about their experiences with concussions.
Head coach Jason Flowers and the team's athletic trainer, Sarah Lyons, were also featured in the report.
The women's basketball team at Northridge is not the only the source of concussion problems for Lyons and her colleagues. The men's basketball team saw four of its members suffer concussions within the first two days of practice. CSUN's Head Athletic Trainer, Steve Grech, says the problem in concussions is making the determination that one has occurred.
"A lot of it has to do with witnessing the action itself. Any time an athlete receives any type of blunt head trauma you get concerned. Being able to witness it is the first thing," Grech said. "The old school thought was that it's not a concussion unless you've been knocked out. Really, a concussion can take place anytime your mind has been altered in terms of thinking, concentration and memory."
Grech also feels that trainers will diagnose more concussions this season due to public awareness and the education and concern of student athletes.
He has treated concussions in numerous athletic events, ranging from water polo to softball. He also experienced the first-hand devastation that football players can experience when he worked with the USC football program during its 2005 national championship campaign.
The NFL has announced that players who commit "devastating hits" or shots to the head during a game will be suspended or fined. The league has come under fire in recent years for the way teams have treated concussion scenarios, often playing the injured player soon after the incident or before they were thoroughly tested by a doctor and cleared to play.
The professional football careers of players like Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Wayne Chrebet have all been cut short by the effects of concussions. A 2005 by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes said former NFL players who suffered three or more concussions are five times more likely to have cognitive problems and three times more likely to have serious memory lapses than players without a history of concussions.
Concussions are also prevalent in "non-contact sports" and can occur more often than one would think.
Earlier this year, New York Mets outfielder and baseball star Jason Bay suffered what was diagnosed as a mild concussion after running into the wall on a play at Dodger Stadium in July. Bay played five more innings the same day and two full games the next two days before complaining of headaches on the flight back to New York.
After close monitoring, it was determined that Bay would not be able to return for the rest of the season as he could not go 48 hours without suffering from concussion-related symptoms.
It was on a soccer pitch that Grech remembered one of the more grisly incidents he ever witnessed.
"There was an incident at UC Riverside, where the UCR player was attacking the goal and our goalie came out to get the ball. Both players collided and both were knocked out," said Grech. "Our goalie definitely had a concussion, and I did a cervical evaluation for a neck injury. I was on the field for about five minutes determining the status of her neck."
Concussions can happen to any athlete in any game at any time. It is important to understand the symptoms of a concussion so you or your child can seek medical attention and minimize the risk of long-term consequences.
Wayne Chrebet is a prime example of a career cut short due to multiple concussions. Chrebet had six documented concussions before he was forced to retire after the 2005 season.
Hockey hall-of-famer Pat LaFontaine also had his retirement influenced by concussions. In the 1996 season, LaFontaine was the recipient of a high hit to the head and suffered a concussion and post-concussion syndrome, which can occur in up to 80 percent of cases and cause cognitive and behavioral troubles for up to a year after the original trauma.
LaFontaine was determined to return to the ice despite doctors and team officials recommending he retire. In March of 1998, after being traded to the New York Rangers, LaFontaine collided with a teammate and suffered another concussion, this time ending his season. The next year he announced his retirement.