Why There Is No Such Thing as a ‘Minor Concussion’

skiing injuries
Photo: Courtesy of SeraphP/Shutterstock

Freestyle skiing is dangerous. If you want to progress, you will fall. Often, you will hit your head. There are famous examples of the very best skiers, like CR Johnson and Sarah Burke, suffering massive, fatal head injuries, but it’s not uncommon for a skier to suffer less severe head injuries, such as concussions.

What exactly is a concussion and how do you treat one? A lot of you may know a lot of this, but there may be some who don’t. Our brains are pretty important, so it’s worth double-checking the facts.

You should always get yourself checked after any head injury, especially if you have any of these symptoms. I did my research and have a bit of experience with head injuries, but I am not medically trained. I had this checked with the osteopath, Alex Evans, who works in Chamonix and used to work in Whistler, where he treated MSP and TGR athletes. He is obviously familiar with ski injuries and actually focuses on concussions in skiing.

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The definition according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation is:

“A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. Rapid movement causes brain tissue to change shape, which can stretch and damage brain cells. This damage also causes chemical and metabolic changes within the brain cells, making it more difficult for cells to function and communicate. Since the brain is the body’s control center, the effects of a concussion can be far-reaching.”

Whatever type of skiing you enjoy, anything from X Games Big Air all the way down to first learning the sport on the bunny slopes, there is always the risk—admittedly at varying degrees—of having the kind of impact that causes a concussion.

So, after any impact to your head, you should:

– Stop skiing. Not forever, but even if you hit your head on your first lap, it’s probably best to play it safe and call it a day there. You want to remove yourself from any activity that could cause head trauma, stress your heart or strain your brain. The book, Life Lessons From a Brain Surgeon, contains this gem regarding concussions: “The first rule of recovery from a concussion don’t run out and get a second one.”

– Get evaluated. Don’t rely on this article, if you hit your head, play it safe.

– Just chill. Obviously no more skiing that day, but try to avoid screens/phones. (Get someone to print this out or read this article to you!) This might mean time off school/work, but make sure you don’t get too bored, spend time with friends or family.

– Keep an eye out for any symptoms (listed lower down) and keep checking.

– Stay positive! Some concussions can last a few weeks, but it’s definitely good staying positive/patient and treating it properly.

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So how do you know you’ve suffered a concussion?

Normally these signs appear within a few minutes or hours of the impact to your head, but sometimes they might only appear after a few days, so basically, keep looking out for these symptoms a few days after the impact:

– Dizziness

– Headache (one which isn’t eased by painkillers)

– Any memory loss (before or after the accident)

– Vomiting or feeling like you need to

– Loss of balance or coordination

– Changes in behavior (mood swings or easily irritated)

– Feeling stunned, dazed or confused

– Change in vision (blurred, double or “seeing stars”)

– Being knocked out or struggling to stay awake

“Ninety percent of concussions there is no loss of consciousness,” explains Evans. “You don’t have to be knocked out to have a concussion.”

skiier goggles
Photo: Courtesy of Newschoolers

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Things you can do to help your recovery include:

– Get plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations.

– Get someone to stay with you for the first 48 hours so they can look out for problems such as changes in your behavior or difficulty concentrating or understanding.

– Take paracetamol or Ibuprofen if you have a headache—don’t use aspirin because it could cause your injury to bleed.

– Avoid alcohol.

– When you’re feeling better, gradually increasing how much activity you do each day—do as much as you can without your symptoms coming back.

– Don’t return to things like work, college, school, skiing, driving or riding a bike until you feel you’ve recovered.

– Avoid sports or strenuous exercise for at least a week, and avoid contact sports for at least 3 weeks.

“Don’t hide it. Get help. Take time to recover,” says Evans.

Speak to your doctor if you still have symptoms after two weeks or you’re unsure about returning to activities such as work or sports.

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One-off concussions are uncomfortable, inconvenient and should be taken seriously, but the real danger is having a number of the seemingly “minor” injuries. Cases from former NFL players as well as the death of BMX legend, Dave Mirra have raised concerns around Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head injuries. While CTE is a concern and after multiple concussions, you should slow down and get yourself checked out, the book How to Handle Brain Injuries says has that the risk of suffering from the condition has perhaps been overstated in the media:

“CTE is a terrible thing; it ruins minds and destroys lives but recent media reports have created a false impression that every football player—and anyone else who experiences concussions—will suffer inevitable brain damage. That’s just not true.”

Obviously there is no way to be 100% safe on the mountain or in the park, just be careful and there’s no reason to not wear a helmet.

“Although they may not protect you from all concussions, they often prevent a brain bleed which will cause moderate to severe brain injuries that have a much worse outcome,” Evans explains.

This article originally appeared on Newschoolers.com and was republished with permission.

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