Beyond The Score: Concussions a Serious Issue Even In Tennis

By Lisa Thomas

A couple of weeks ago I managed to give myself a concussion playing tennis.  Chasing down a well-placed lob into the back corner of the court I hit the fence and knocked my head on the post.  Even in the non-contact sport of tennis it seems we are susceptible to head injuries.

Now mine was mild to say the least, but I certainly suffered from a long dull headache, foggy thinking and fatigue for a couple of days.  I know concussions can get a lot worse.  My daughter has suffered from two big hits on her head playing volleyball and when I watched college and NFL football this last weekend it became apparent that head injuries are frequent and scary.

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The NFL as we know has stepped up not just its admission of concussions being an issue in the game, but also its attempts to make the game less of a risk for its player. In September of 2016 the NFL announced an initiative intended to increase the safety of the game, specifically preventing, diagnosing and treating head injuries.

Several professional tennis players have suffered from concussion after hitting their heads while playing.  Of course concussion is not likely to be an everyday occurrence in a non-contact individual sport, but it does happen.  In 2015 at the US Open, Eugenie Bouchard fell in the locker room after her match hitting her head with the resulting symptoms prompting her to withdraw from the tournament and four subsequent tournaments that year.

Vika Azarenka apparently caught her foot in the hem of her sweatpants while warming up for her match at the US Open.  She also fell to the ground and hit her head.  She was cleared to play but she had classic symptoms with a headache and was visibly wobbly on her feet.  In retrospect the suggestion has been that she should not have been cleared to play.  When it comes to head injuries the advice time and again is to err on the side of caution.

Li Na fell twice during her finals at the Australian Open in 2013.  You could clearly see her head bounce off the ground after one of her falls.  That was horrible to watch and horrible to think about the impact on her health.

Concussion is an injury to the brain caused by impact against the skull. It can, but does not always, involve a loss of consciousness.

According to the Mayo Clinic the signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Appearing dazed
  • Fatigue

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/basics/symptoms/con-20019272

Concussions fall into three different categories: mild, moderate and severe.  I felt confident my concussion was mild after having watched my daughter struggle through two moderate concussions under the care of her school’s trainer and her physician.  Not something you want to experience. I can only imagine the parents of athletes who tend to the child with a severe concussion.

Mild concussions include symptoms such as slight mental confusion with possibly some memory loss. Mild tinitus (or “ringing in the ear”) may be heard along with mild dizziness and/or a headache. There is likely to be pain in the area of contact or impact. The athlete will often have a normal ability to balance and will usually no have lost consciousness during the incident. The degree of memory loss and the ability to recall information will be variable from athlete to athlete.

Moderate concussions include symptoms such as mental confusion with often some memory loss. Moderate tinitus (or “ringing in the ears”) may be heard with moderate dizziness and usually a headache. Overall balance may be altered and the player may experience some nausea (feeling sick) or even vomiting (being sick). Loss of consciousness may happen but will this will usually last no longer than 5 minutes. The degree of memory loss and the ability to recall information will be variable from athlete to athlete.

Severe concussions will more than likely result in mental confusion lasting for 5 minutes or more. Severe ringing in the ears or tinitus may be experienced. Prolonged loss of memory of events before the accident may occur. Loss of consciousness for more than 5 minutes is possible along with an increase in blood pressure and a decrease in heart rate.

Source: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/head-injuries/concussion

Generally you should take substantial rest following a concussion, and only take pain medication that the doctor has approved due to the risk of anti-inflammatory remedies exacerbating your injury. Do not return to playing sports too soon, as the danger of a further concussion is far greater.

For those of you who have not had or been in the company of an athlete who has suffered from a concussion take it seriously and get the help you or they need.

  • Err on the side of caution. Don’t take any risks and follow treatment protocols diligently.
  • Seek medical help.
  • Rest and don’t go back to physical activity until you are cleared to do so.

Another piece of advice I came across deals with our footwear.  Good quality tennis shoes help us to keep our balance.  We are not likely to go out on the court with helmets on any time soon but we can help to prevent the falls and the right shoes for the surface with good traction may stop us from falling.

I guess I can add to the advice from personal experience by saying look out for the posts.  Either way we can do our best to prevent a fall or a hit in the head that can cause some significant damage.  But if it happens, and at times even on a tennis court it does, then take it seriously, get professional help and get well before you venture back out there again.

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