Concussions: A head pounding problem

By Colton Walters

1.6 to 3.8 million.   That’s how many concussions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says happen each year.  If that sounds like a lot, it is. 

And in some places, the numbers may be increasing. ESPN, for instance, reports regular-season concussions in the NFL increased by 18 per cent in 2022.

While most of us don’t play in the NFL, concussions are still a risk.  They can happen to anyone.  So, they are probably something people should know more about.

According to the CDC, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury or TBI that happens when a blow to the head causes the head and brain to move back and forth quickly.

“This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull,” the website says, “creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.”

The site goes on to explain that concussions are usually not life-threatening, but the effects of one can be serious.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms may include loss of memory and confusion.  Other symptoms, it says, may include:

  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Blurry vision

South Plains College has had its fair share of concussions.

Andy Reyes, the head athletic trainer at SPC, says, “We don’t see a ton of concussions here, but we would see them mainly in basketball.  In the last two years, I would say we have had one concussion a year and they’ve both been in basketball.” 

Photo by Noah Lopez

SPC Women’s Head Basketball Coach Ara Baten says a concussion can happen to any player at any time.  He describes an incident several years ago when a player caught a knee to the

temple and was put into ICU for three days with a concussion.

Hayden Sowers, the SPC men’s head basketball coach, says the game has gotten so much more physical.  He says concussions can happen up and down the roster.

Photo by Isabela Salas

The student-athletes on the SPC rodeo team are also at risk for concussions.  SPC does not have a rough stock program, but it does have events like steer wrestling.  Steer wrestlers jump off  a horse that is running as fast as it can go, onto a steer that is running as fast as it can go, and wrestle it to the ground.  Most of the steers weight over 1,000 pounds.

Photo by Brooke Swaffield

According to research from 2020 published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, most rodeo injuries that happened with professional competitors over a four- year span happened when there were collisions with the ground or animal, or being stomped on by the animal. 

SPC’s Andy Reyes says athletic trainers in the state of Texas must complete continuing education about concussions every two years. 

 “If I believe that there is a concussion,” Reyes says, “it’s my job to pull that person out, even if the athlete says, ‘hey I’m good’”.

The Mayo Clinic says signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not show up right away.  That means they may not be easy to diagnose.

 “So, probably the number one mistake that I see from people that don’t really understand about concussions,”  Reyes says, “is you can’t see a concussion on an MRI or CT scan. It doesn’t show up on images.”

Reyes explains a specific protocol called a Standard Concussion Assessment Tool, or SCAT, is what is used to diagnose concussions.  The assessment consists of a number of tests which include a person’s ability to balance, their memory, and their ability to pay attention.

Photo by Colton Walters

The “return to play” protocol, Reyes, says has changed over the years.  He says it used to be people were told not to do anything until symptoms went away.  Now, he says, really, really light activity, like getting on a bike or walking, before symptoms are gone, might help someone recover quicker.

Photo by Awer Awer

“Then once they’re symptom free,” he says,” then we can start doing sports specific stuff, so individual drills, that sort of stuff. And it is all done once they are symptom free, we continue to progress from individual drills, to practice with no contact, and then full practice, and then full participation in the game. So, at minimum- at minimum, we’re looking at five to six days.”

DeEtte Edens, the associate director of Health and Wellness, says, students who have suffered a concussion are discouraged from looking at a phone screen or computer screen for an extended period of time and are advised to have very minimal mental strain. This can create a challenge for students who need to complete their academic work.

Photo by Esosa Iyengunmwena

Edens says she sees probably four or five concussions a year.  Half of them, she says, are athletes and half are people with unique circumstances.  Edens recalls a case where she had student who had her bed elevated and fell off of it and hit her head, resulting in a concussion.

And if concussions are hard to diagnose, many of them are probably not reported or treated.   That might be a problem when it comes to how many concussions a person suffers from.

 “One in our life and we’ll all be OK,” Edens says.  “The concern is multiple concussions, because a concussion is a brain injury, and so when you get repetitive concussions, that’s where we start to see those folks seem to have long term issues, is a repetitive injury.”

According to Abbott Medical’s own research, Abbott Laboratories is a multinational medical devices and health care company, 53% of people who suspect they have a concussion never get it checked. It also says 13% of people believe all concussions result in a person losing consciousness, but that’s not true.

In March, Abbott Medical announced it was forming Concussion Awareness Now, a coalition co-founded with the Brain Injury Association of America and nearly 20 additional advocacy groups, to raise awareness about how serious concussions can be. It’s launched a campaign for people to learn more about concussions at It features information and videos showcasing the “Melon” family who all want to protect their heads.  As the site says,  “If you see bumps and bruises on your melon, you wonder what’s going on inside.”

So, the obvious best advice is to try to avoid getting a concussion in the first place. 

“Accidents happen,” Edens says. “But for instance, during icy weather, making sure you’re wearing shoes that have good tread and paying attention. Try not to walk on the icy sidewalk, look to see if there is a safer place to do that.”

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