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Understanding concussion: Baseball and the brain

When people think about concussions in athletes, baseball isn't usually the first sport that comes to mind. "It's not the most common sport for concussions, but it certainly does happen," said Melissa Womble, PhD, a neuropsychologist and director of the Concussion Program at Inova Sports Medicine, the official hospital network and sports medicine partner of the Washington Nationals.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body. A batter could get hit by a pitch. A catcher might get struck by the bat when the hitter takes a swing. Players may collide in the outfield, resulting in a whiplash motion of the head. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as concussion-proof helmets or other gear that will protect against these injuries. "Concussions are unpredictable and hard to avoid," Womble said.

When people think about concussions in athletes, baseball isn't usually the first sport that comes to mind. "It's not the most common sport for concussions, but it certainly does happen," said Melissa Womble, PhD, a neuropsychologist and director of the Concussion Program at Inova Sports Medicine, the official hospital network and sports medicine partner of the Washington Nationals.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body. A batter could get hit by a pitch. A catcher might get struck by the bat when the hitter takes a swing. Players may collide in the outfield, resulting in a whiplash motion of the head. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as concussion-proof helmets or other gear that will protect against these injuries. "Concussions are unpredictable and hard to avoid," Womble said.

Concussions are serious. Kids and teens who return to play before the concussion is fully healed are at greater risk for a repeat concussion - and potentially permanent damage to the brain. But by recognizing and managing concussions appropriately, you can reach a full recovery.

Spotting Concussion Symptoms
Concussion symptoms aren't always obvious. People who experience these injuries don't always lose consciousness. And symptoms can develop up to 48 to 72 hours after the injury, Womble said.

Some of those symptoms can include:
• Headache
• Nausea/vomiting
• Double/blurry vision
• Dizziness or balance problems
• Sensitivity to light and sound
• A hazy, foggy feeling
• Problems with memory or concentration
• A feeling that something just isn't right

Unsure? Err on the side of caution. "If there's a suspected injury, pull the kid from play," Womble said. "It can be hard for parents to tell if it's a concussion or something else. If you're concerned, get evaluated."

Concussion Management & Return to Play
Awareness of concussions is growing steadily among players, parents and coaches. What many people still don't realize, however, is that concussion treatment has improved a lot in recent years, Womble said.

"Previously concussion was treated like a one-size-fits-all injury," she said. In fact, the condition varies from person to person. One child might have more problems with dizziness, while another might have difficulty with blurry and/or double vision. Now, medical providers can better pinpoint the specific problems and develop management plans to treat them, Womble said.

Concussion treatment is also more active than it used to be. "In the past, concussions were managed with rest. We've learned that a more active approach can decrease symptoms, reduce recovery times, break up headache cycles and improve sleep in people with concussion," Womble said.

In some cases, players can safely get back to practice for non-physical activity, even before symptoms fully fade. Baseball players, for example, might be able to work on batting form, take in-place fly balls or play catch, depending on their symptoms.

That's all good news for children who might be afraid to report concussion symptoms because they don't want to be pulled from play. "As players understand we have these active ways to manage and treat concussions, reporting improves," Womble said.

Concussion Diagnosis & Treatment: Get Expert Help
Inova Sports Medicine's Concussion Program offers baseline concussion testing for athletes. Having an athlete's pre-injury results to compare to makes it easier for doctors to diagnose and manage concussions when an injury does occur. Baseline testing is recommended every year for athletes under 14, and every other year after that.

Questions or concerns? Get in touch. Inova's 24/7 Concussion Hotline provides round-the-clock access to the Inova Sports Medicine Concussion Specialists. From answering questions and providing information to scheduling appointments and baseline testing sessions, the concussion hotline is a resource for all athletes, parents and coaches. Call 703-970-6427.

Washington Nationals