Sports specific recovery from Concussion

blurry hockey
Body checking starts at age 11 in most sanctioned ice hockey programs  PHOTO: Mike Sefton
WESTBOROUGH, MA October 9, 2018 Cognitive and emotional symptoms often occur when an athlete sustains a concussion. Individual sports have somewhat different trajectories when it comes to recovery – sometimes because of the nature of the sport and sometimes unique to the athlete and his or her emotional predisposition. Ice hockey is a high speed collision sport. Many athletes play the game on a year round basis chasing a dream of collegiate or professional status. Ice hockey has a high degree of collision-related concussions according to the National Council on Youth Sports.
Contrary to current beliefs, even currently healthy youth hockey players reported higher persisting psychological symptoms among those with a history of concussion. Psychological sequelae appeared unique to a history of concussion as athletes with a history of musculoskeletal injuries did not present with the same persisting psychological symptoms. A study in Pittsburgh looked at the incidence of concussion among younger and older adolescent players from elite hockey programs.  They found a higher rate of concussion among younger players.  In a post last month I presented the notion that size matters when it comes to elite (younger) athletes playing against older and more physically developed athletes.  Concussions tend to be both more frequent and more long lasting.
As with any risk-reward scenario, decisions about physical risk must be considered when a player is invited to play up against older and more developed players. I have seen freshman football players competing at a varsity level and be severely harmed both physically and psychologically by the shear difference in size and strength.  Younger athletes are often misinformed as to the physical demands of a varsity sport and wrongly believe they are athletic failures and weak unless they play through their injuries – including concussion according to Sefton, 2018.
In 2016 the majority college ice hockey player spend one to two years in junior hockey (ages 17-21) allowing them to continue their physical development prior to entering college hockey.  This includes not only Division I scholarship programs but Division II and Division III programs as well.  Very few natural freshmen play college hockey at 18 years of age unless they are highly gifted athletes. Even these players are coached and managed by trainers with ongoing development programs, weight training, and nutritional support to enhance upper body size and strength.    Michael Sefton, 2016
Even though sport concussion is considered a unique subset of MTBI, results suggest that a smaller percentage of youth may be more prone to psychological sequelae following concussion. This means that not all concussions are created equal. Along with colleagues across the country I have been saying this for over 20 years. There is a literature on elite ice hockey players and a co-occurring mood disorder that needs to be addressed as they heal.
When I first started taking an interest in MTBI, also called concussion, physicians did not believe that someone sustained a brain injury unless there was a bonafide loss of consciousness. This remains one of the greatest myths in brain injury rehabilitation and I still hear from people that a son or daughter has a concussion “but he did not get knocked out” as if that minimizes the significance of the injury they sustained. Finally, I am still getting significant push back from the parents of children who are diagnosed with multiple concussions. The recovery from concussion two or three is not the same trajectory as the first. Many wonder why their child hasn’t bounced back like they did the first time around. And common to second concussion irritability and other mood-related changes are common.
I suggest to parents expect the unexpected and try not to attribute changes in school functioning to laziness alone. Plan on working with the school-based support team and athletic trainer as you return to learn and return to play.  Most elite programs offer emotional support for athletes suffering with the effects of concussion. Many feel isolated or marginalized because they may appear normal and walk and talk just like other members of the team. Athletes recovering from concussion are at higher risk of second concussion if they return to play before their injuries heal.  This takes 7-21 days on average.
The Pittsburgh study, published in Pediatrics in 2016, revealed that the population of ice hockey players they studied had a higher preponderance of players who had sustained one or more concussions.  This is what I experienced in looking at junior level ice hockey (typically aged 16-20 years) teams a few years ago.  I was surprised when I asked how many had sustained a prior concussion and most all the players raised their hands. Fighting is first allowed in this level of play and sometimes becomes a handicap for players with sites set on collegiate play.  In many cities across the country junior hockey is the only show in town.  Some cities in the mid-west actually televise games and report scores on local sports programs.
Remember no two concussions are the same. Sports all have their return to play protocol that begins with recognizing the importance of controlled exertion in the setting of concussion and recovery.

Sefton, M. (2016). Body Checking in Hockey: When size matters. Blog post: https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/body-checking-in-ockey-size-matters/ Taken October 9, 2018

National Council on Youth Sports
. Report on trends and participation in organized youth sports. Available at: www.ncys.org/publications/2008-sports-participation-study.php. Published 2008. Accessed March 17, 2015

Kontos, A. et.al. (2016) Incidence of Concussionin Youth Hockey Players http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/01/07/peds.2015-1633#ref-5 PEDIATRICS Volume 137, number 2 , February 2016 :e 20151633 Taken October 9, 2018

Advertisements

Preventing Concussion whenever possible

WESTBOROUGH, MA March 20, 2018 I am frequently asked about helmets and those that claim to be protective against concussion.  As of this publication there are no helmets that unequivocally protect against the forces that impact the brain in the course of an athletic contest. The stunning Ted Talk video below reveals details about the protection offered by helmets today.  Concussion is described as occurring in lower brain centers not the surface of the brain as the CDC graphic describes.
“Players are rarely hit by a direct linear force.  They are struck from the side or oblique and the force causes the head to suddenly turn or twist a millisecond prior to the whiplash impact we see on television.”  Sefton, 2018
In fact, there is a newly designed mouth piece that has a built in gyroscope that is capable of measuring g-forces and rotation of the head resulting from head strikes.  Researchers now believe it is the rotational force that sends energy into the skull and brain that causes the greatest cognitive and behavioral changes in the event of a concussion. Players are rarely hit by a direct linear force.  They are struck from the side or oblique and the force causes the head to suddenly turn or twist a millisecond prior to the whiplash impact we see on television.

 

 

 

Link to Dr. Mike Evans Concussion 101 video

TBI, concussion and headaches in females

headache-2-mbhi5p4ess5v9x1kbfpafgnr6lyhkdbydmq67h3pno.jpgWESTBOROUGH, MA March 15, 2018 Serious and chronic headaches are a frequent complaint of those recovering from mild traumatic brain injury.  “Headache is one of the most common symptoms after traumatic brain injury (often called “post-traumatic headache”). Over 30% of people report having headaches which continue long after injury.” (TBI and Headaches, 2010) They can be quite debilitating. The NCAA Headache Task force listed headaches as among the most debilitating symptoms in the aftermath of concussion.  Young women tend to have a higher incidence of post-concussive headaches than males.  There is treatment for post-concussive head pain.
Migraine headaches are three times more common in females than males.  Rates of emergency room visits related to traumatic brain injury (including concussions) among women almost doubled from 2001 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In my own practice here in Massachusetts I have seen more recurring headaches in females than in males. In addition, female athletes generally have a longer recovery course than some of the males I follow.  I will say that males are prone to abuse alcohol when recovering from concussion that may also be a confounding variable in the trajectory toward their normal baseline.
Individuals previously treated for headaches are at greater risk of both developing post-concussive headaches and for having chronic headaches following recovery from concussion.  These injuries can be caused by not only sports but also falls, car crashes, blunt trauma (getting hit on the head by an object), and assaults as noted in a 2016 Health.com report on women and concussion. I have worked with several high school athletes who had pre-injury headaches and received treatment for chronic headaches who went on to have an increased frequency of headaches after concussion. I worked with a tenured college professor who developed headaches from being hit with a basketball at her daughter’s middle school practice. This was shortly after being diagnosed with concussion from a prior head trauma.
American Olympian Lindsey Vonn suffered with the effects of concussion for months following a skiing accident in 2015  including chronic headaches.  The BBC recently featured 22-year old skier Rowan Cheshire who sustained a concussion 4 years ago that kept her from competing in the 2014 Olympic Games.  Cheshire had won the World Cup event one month prior to the Olympics in Sochi and suffered a severe concussion in a fall off the halfpipe. It was the first of two subsequent concussions over the next 3 years that caused severe side effects including migraine headaches and panic anxiety.  Cheshire worked closely with a sports psychologist during her recovery.
One reason for the difference between men and women in concussions is that women tend to have smaller neck and shoulder muscles allowing for greater whiplash from force striking the upper body.  Episodic headaches are usually set off by a single stressful situation or a build-up of stress. These are tension-related headaches which may be unrelated to concussion but whose frequency and intensity change following concussion or when under stressful life conditions. Nevertheless, unchecked stress and tension may contribute to an increased proclivity for head and neck pain and both respond very well to biofeedback and alternative interventions such as acupuncture and progressive relaxation. Daily strain can lead to chronic headaches. Coupled with concussion, stress can become inflammatory in terms of the frequency and intensity of headaches.
“Post traumatic headaches are seriously debilitating in terms of lost school and work days.  They are often a late symptom in the recovery from brain injury and concussion” Michael Sefton, 2018

Symptom presentation
In early childhood there is similarity between boys and girls in symptoms profile. This changes as children enter their growth spurt. “Puberty, which marks a significant developmental fork in the road for males and females, also marks a divergence for concussions. With its onset, females increasingly experience higher incidence of concussions, different and more severe symptoms, and are often slower to recover from the injury.” Treatments for post-concussion range from complete rest to gradual re-exertion, to physical therapy and more. There is a growing trend to slowly increase physical activity once symptoms resolve and I have seen a return of symptoms in cases where physical activity is premature and in cases of second or subsequent concussion.
One clear intervention for post-concussion headaches involves a paced-breathing protocol and neurofeedback that I have been using.  I teach and practice stress management using biofeedback instruments that have demonstrated reducing duration of headaches, reducing stress, and lowering sympathetic abnormalities including heart rate.  The goal of treatment is to reduce the body’s reactivity and normalize the autonomic system. “Fortunately, even if post-concussion headaches don’t get better in the first few weeks after concussion, most are better within 3 months and almost all are better within a year after injury” according to Heidi Blume, M.D., at the American Migraine Foundation.

Sefton, M. (2018) Abnormal Stress response from mTBI often sometimes leads to headaches. Response comment in Emergency Medicine Journal, Volume 34, Issue 12, February 23, 2018
Levine, H. (2016) The Truth about concussions and women. http://www.health.com/headaches-and-migraines/women-concussions
Roehr, B. (2016). Concussions Affect Women More Adversely Than Men: Differences between how females and males experience concussions suggest the need for gender-specific prevention and treatment strategies. Scientific American posted March, 2016. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/concussions-affect-women-more-adversely-than-men/ Taken February 28, 2018.
Lahz S, Bryant RA (1996). Incidence of chronic pain following
traumatic brain injury. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 77(9),
889-891.
Blume, H. (2016). Headaches after Concussion. American Migraine Foundation.  https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/headaches-after-concussion/ Taken February 28, 2018

Once common treatment of concussion

Head injuries at the time were treated as mere nuisances. Players reacted to violent head blows by trying to blink away their blurred vision, shake the ringing from their skulls, and trundle back to their huddles, unless they were flagged by sideline doctors. Even then, they generally returned quickly to action.  Boston Globe October 2017

Neurological trauma and enduring change in survivors

Westborough, MA December 18, 2017 The British Medical Journal Lancet recently published a series of articles describing the long-term effects of brain trauma. The series is worth a serious read for those who are in the position to take care of trauma patients.

traumatic-brain-injury.jpg

There has been little change in our approach to handling the individual grind of caring for the TBI patient I must sadly admit.  Young and old it takes both patience and dedication to achieve the best outcomes with those we bring into our treatment continuum. “Survivors experience a substantial burden of physical, psychiatric, emotional, and cognitive disabilities, which disrupt the lives of individuals and their families, and pose huge costs to society” according the Lancet, 2017.  Many readers have read my post Updates in these pages where I have detailed well-known athletes like Formula 1 car driver Michael Schumacher and Mike Towell, the Irish boxer both of whom were seriously injured from TBI.  Towell died from injuries linked to second impact syndrome following a match in 2016.
Schumacher remains in a minimally conscious state in Switzerland.  He is conscious but does not speak or move about.  He requires 24 hour medical care and is living is a special suite adapted in his home that allows him to continue to receive the best care possible while being in his familiar setting surrounded by family and friends.  The cost of his care exceeds $ 100,000 per month.
Some reports suggest Mr. Trowell had sustained a brain injury in the early rounds of the fight.  “Essentially, “second impact syndrome” or SIS results from the brain’s inability to autoregulate cerebral perfusion pressure and swelling as a result of repeated cerebral trauma.” Sefton, 2016 on second impact syndrome and Mike Trowell
Autonomic regulation is the role of the brain stem that maintains the diurnal pattern of arousal for wakeful activity and sleep hygiene.  The brain stem regulates heart rate and respiratory drive as well.  These functions are vital to survival and comprise the autonomic nervous system.  The ANS functions as the brain and body’s alarm system signaling the need for fight-flight activation according to a Autonomic Storming post by Michael Sefton, Ph.D.
Lancet identifies the complexity of TBI and its multifactorial underpinning.  A growing number of patients are elderly that contribute to “heterogeneity of outcomes and consider ways forward for targeted management of severe TBI in the intensive care unit” as mentioned in the 2017 Lancet summary.  Improved management of TBI in the trauma centers and ICUs bring forth better rehabilitation candidates and better outcomes including return to home and eventually return to preinjury employment for many.  Surgical intervention crafted to decrease secondary injury to brain have been enhanced by improved diagnostic accumen, imaging and novel techniques such as radical craniectomy and cranioplasty for management of intracranial pressure and its associated edema.
The series also explains PSH or “autonomic storming” something that I have described in several posts and can be quite serious both in the trauma canter and later in the rehabilitation hospital   “Geert Meyfroidt and colleagues provide an overview of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity, a consequence of acute brain injury, and discuss the promise of improved characterization and implications for management”. Damage to the system that regulates sympathetic and parasympathetic functioins due to traumatic brain injury can be unsettling for familiy members and clinicians alike. The recovering subject can have wild swings of autonomic arousal such as elevated heart rate – patients sometimes chug along at 140-160 while autonomic storming.  Paroxysmal changes in blood pressure may pose significant risk, respiratory rate may become tachypnic, patients frequent are febrile and may become excessively sweaty  as a consequence of autonomic dysfunction.  Patients in our rehabilitation frequently undergo repeated blood cultures and lab studies looking for a source of infection.  Many are returned to the trauma centers for additional brain imaging studies and cardiac monitoring that takes hours and is often unneccessary.  These procedures delay recovery and add confusion to the patient and his family.
The regulation of the secondary injuries such as paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity is essential for patient well-being and outcome measures including returning home and re-entering the work force. The Lancet series is a well written update on current brain injury treatment and management of this serious public health threat.

 Lancet Neuology (2017) Jun;16(6):452-464. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(17)30118-7. Traumatic Brain Injury. Taken 12-18-2017.

Brain, Concussion and Stress: Health effects and post-concussion syndrome

_93357606_c0036850-amygdala_in_the_brain_artwork-spl
Amygdala highlighted is over active when stress exists and raises the body’s threat level as shown in this BBC graphic
WESTBOROUGH, MA January 15, 2107 The human cost of stress has been well-studied and the effects of stress are a well-known cause of cardiovascular illness including heart attack and stoke.  It is now known that the brain plays a big role in all of this. The human stress response elevates heart functioning – especially blood pressure and normal heart rhythms in unhealthy ways.  Stress activates the amygdala in the brain by tricking it – as if some great threat exists.  People believe that the body’s autonomic nervous system can be thrown off after a concussion slowly becoming irregular resulting from an abnormal stress response. There is a deactivation of inhibitory neurons in the brain resulting in greater sympathetic activity. This involves progressive relaxation and guided imagery that can slowly lower the tension felt in the body.
Symptoms of concussion are known to elevate the sympathetic nervous system over time. Known as the fight-flight mechanism, stress activates the mechanism in the brain that prepares us each for battle.  This level of tension can only last for so long without needing a break. That is where the parasympathetic system comes in putting the brakes on the body allowing it to rest. The brain stem regulates heart rate and respiratory drive as well.  These functions are vital to survival and comprise the autonomic nervous system.
Study: Overactive system of emotional drive
Many believe that an overactive system in the brain results in the elevation of the autonomic nervous system. A Harvard study followed 300 patients for several years and found that those with an overactive amygdala were more likely to have cardiovascular disease and be at greater risk for stroke and heart attack. The amygdala is a tiny organ responsible for the emotions such as fear or pleasure.  It also plays a role in the systemic inflammatory response that may prolong the symptoms associated with concussion. “Heart experts said at-risk patients should be helped to manage stress” according to a BBC publication taken from Lancet.
The protocol I use involves paced breathing and heart rate entrainment as a way of putting the brakes on stress. But it takes time and American’s want instant fixes. Mindfulness requires self-monitoring and personal reflection.  If more people understood the health cost of stress and were able to identify high stress lifestyles then they might make behavioral changes that can lower the risk for cardiovascular disease later on.

The protocol quickly assists in helping patients find a balance or resonance between sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in the body using controlled, paced, breathing and prototypic progressive relaxation” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., Director of Psychological and Neuropsychological services at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough, MA.

In several blog posts I have illustrated the potential negative health effects of high stress and physical functioning for which I am providing biofeedback at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Massachusetts. This process helps put the brakes on the stress response and quiet the body.  The effects of concussion slowly elevate autonomic response adding to tension and physical malfunctioning. The biofeedback protocol helps lower the human cost of stress and the body’s inflammatory response and may lower feelings of tension and anxiety.  In doing so a rise in physical and emotional well-being may be expected.

BBC report http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38584975, taken January 14, 2017
WebMD post,  http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20170111/stress-ball-in-your-brain-may-be-key-to-heart-risks#2, taken January 14, 2017
Sefton, M. (2016) Coincident stress may contribute to post concussion symptoms, blog post, https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/coincident-stress-may-contribute-to-pcs/, taken January 14, 2017

What is post-concussion syndrome?

“The syndrome consists of musculoskeletal pain, headaches, sensitivity to sound and light, sleep disturbance, changes in memory and balance, anxiety and depression. The emotional impact of this leaves patients feeling alone and frustrated” Sefton, 2016

The likelihood of getting a concussion while playing sports is between 10-30 percent of high school and college athletes.  As many as 29 percent of these injured players may go on to experience post-concussion syndrome. It is important for team physicians, trainers, and primary care doctors to understand and treat people with lingering symptoms of concussion.

brain_pictureIn a blog post published in September it is noted that concussion is an invisible injury and recovery takes time – generally 2-3 weeks. The consequence to individual athletes or others recovering from car crash, falls, and any brain trauma can be debilitating and effect a few bodily systems. The emotional stress of lingering symptoms should not be underestimated. Whether it is a professional, elite student athlete or a salesman injured in a car crash there is an experience of stigma associated with the invisible injury of concussion. The emotional impact of this marginalizes patients often leaving them feeling alone and frustrated.

A multidisciplinary approach is best that allows for restoration of physical activity and acknowledgement of both physical and emotional symptoms. Pain management is a useful intervention including aquatics.  My approach to treatment includes biofeedback, education and psychotherapy.  This helps reduce the autonomic effects of acute stress and the inflammatory impact on the fight/flight response – including blood pressure, sleep, and rate of breathing.

Sefton, M. What is PCS: and why do I care? Blog post: https://concussionassessment.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/what-is-pcs-and-why-do-i-care/. Taken October 1, 2016.