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You Asked It: Brain Bang

I play football on my high school team and really love it. I got a concussion this season, and even though my doctor cleared me to play, my dad wants me to quit. Should I? Is a concussion that serious?

Great question! The most important thing you can do for yourself right now is make sure that you’re totally healed before you get back in the game (if that’s what you decide to do). Concussions happen when you hit your head so hard (or get whiplash so intense) that your brain hits the inside of your skull, bruising itself.  How long it takes your brain to heal depends on how serious your concussion is. In the meantime, avoid ANY risky or demanding physical activity. This includes riding your bike and lifting weights. Try to rest as much as possible. Injuring your head while your brain isn’t fully healed can make the concussion more severe, and take much longer to heal. In rare circumstances, re-injuring your head can cause second-impact syndrome, which has long-lasting effects and can even cause death.

Your healthcare provider will probably also ask you to avoid anything that stimulates your brain. That includes using your computer, playing video games, reading, studying, and other activities that require focus. You may need to take a break from school. Everyday activities take a lot more brain activity than you probably realize, and can delay healing. It’s essential to get checked out by a medical provider before getting back in the game—sometimes it can feel like the symptoms of a concussion are gone, when really you just aren’t noticing them. It’s great that you’ve already got that taken care of.

That being said, there are some real reasons for your dad to be concerned.  One concussion is not necessarily a big deal—IF you make sure your brain fully recovers before getting back in the game. However, having one concussion can put you at risk for more concussions in the future, and multiple concussions can be a big deal. This is especially true for teens, whose brains are still developing. Concussions can end up affecting your mood, attention-span, memory, balance, and more. They also put you at increased risk for neurological disorders similar to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Talk to your doctor about your (and your dad’s) concerns. If you want, you can ask your health care provider to discuss the situation with both you and your dad together. That way, he can hear about concussions from a measured, trustworthy source. If you do rejoin the team and get another concussion, revisit this conversation—two concussions is a much bigger deal than one, and three is a much bigger deal than two. Ultimately, playing a contact sport is a risk. That risk may be worth it for you, but you should make sure you fully understand it before making a decision.

ABOUT YOU ASKED IT

You’ve got questions.  We’ve got answers. At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we answer a lot of questions. Topics range from nutrition to pregnancy prevention, and everything in between. Now, we’re bringing these questions back to you with our new weekly advice column, You Asked It. Got a question? Holler at us in the comments, send us a message on Facebook or Twitter, or email us at teenhealthcareorg@gmail.com.

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