Sports can cause lasting brain trauma

What do baseball, football, and hockey all have in common? The answer is Post-concussion Syndrome (PCS). Any one of these sports, along with many other things we do that can cause trauma to the brain or spinal cord, can result in PCS.

So you may be asking yourself what is PCS? PCS is a mild traumatic brain injury that results as a cognitive deficit in attention or memory and has at least three of the following symptoms associated with it: fatigue, sleep disturbance, headache, dizziness, irritability, affective disturbances, apathy, or personality change.

PCS occurs when acceleration-deceleration forces are applied to the moving brain resulting in shearing of neural and vascular elements within the brain and spinal cord. This damage is followed by sudden neuronal depolarization and then a period of nerve cell transmission failure.

Who is affected by PCS? According to the CDC, infants and children ages 0 to 4, children and young adults ages 5 to 24, and older adults ages 75 and older, are more likely to develop PCS after a concussion. Several other factors contribute to increased incidence of PCS, including gender and history of prior concussions.

Females are at a greater risk of developing PCS. The reason for increased vulnerability is unknown, however some researchers believe that due to the fact that most women have smaller head and neck muscles compared to their male counterparts, this predisposes them to more injuries from rapid acceleration and deceleration.

Prior concussion equals increased likelihood of developing PCS. Three main conclusions can be drawn from the many studies surrounding PCS. Prior concussions can increase the risk of developing a subsequent concussion with less force necessary than the previous concussion. Multiple concussions will result in increased risk of cognitive dysfunction. A history of prior concussion is correlated with longer recovery time.

The important thing to remember about PCS is that it can be prevented by wearing proper protective gear during sports and recreational activities, buckling your seat belt, exercising regularly, and providing education on identifying concussion symptoms.

Guest author: Michele Serbus is a member of the Clinical Support and Education Department at NeuroScience, Inc. and is the resident expert in pediatrics.

Arciniegas DB, Anderson CA, Topkoff J, McAllister TW. Mild traumatic brain injury : a neuropsychiatric approach to diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2005;1:311–327.
Daneshvar DH, Riley DO, Nowinski CJ, McKee AC, Stern RA, Cantu RC. Long-term consequences: effects on normal development profile after concussion. 2011 Nov;22(4):683-700, ix. doi: 10.1016/j.pmr.2011.08.009. Epub 2011 Sep 23.
Giza C. C., Hovda D. A. The neurometabolic cascade of concussion. J. Athl. Train. 2011;36, 228–235.
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