How Does a Sports-Related Brain Injury Happen?

Contact sports like football, basketball, soccer, hockey, boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and others are the most likely sports to cause an injury to the head. Such sports-related brain injuries can then result in damage to the brain. When a direct blow to the head, face, neck, or somewhere else on the body that transmits force to the head occurs, the brain has the potential to become injured.

The human brain essentially “floats” in viscous fluid inside the skull, protectively suspending it away from the inside of the encompassing bone. But a forceful blow, jolt, or penetration can cause the delicate brain to hit the inside of the skull, resulting in temporary or permanent physical or cognitive damage. The degrees of damage vary widely when it comes to head injuries and can sometimes be difficult to recognize and treat.

If the athlete has collided with another athlete, taken a fall, or been hit in the head by the ball or other equipment, sports-related brain injuries may occur. These types of sports-related brain injuries can also be caused by repeated action or stress over time. For example, the nature of their sport causes football players and boxers to experience repetitive head trauma that has may cause a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been shown to lead to negative physical and cognitive effects later in life, and though research surrounding it is relatively new, CTE sheds light on the seriousness of potential brain injuries in relation to contact sports. The 2015 movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith is an eye-opening and approachable resource for learning more about CTE and other sports-related brain injuries.

Because of the delicate nature of the brain, it may not take much force to cause it damage. Taking a bad header in soccer or getting in the way of a hockey stick’s backswing may seem like happenstance occurrences in the middle of a game, but the player should always be thoroughly evaluated should an action as this occur. This is especially true if they’re complaining of or exhibiting telltale brain injury symptoms.

What are the Symptoms?

Brain injuries do not always manifest themselves physically like a broken bone or a laceration does. Sometimes, sports-related brain injuries can go undetected for hours or even days, especially when the symptoms do not exhibit themselves immediately following the incident.

If you suspect your athlete may have suffered head trauma that could result in brain injury, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Mood swings
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Cognitive changes
  • Sensory changes

While some of these symptoms are self-explanatory and easily recognizable, such as dizziness, headaches, dilated pupils, nausea, loss of consciousness, and motor dysfunction, others may need more diligent recognition.

Mood swings can mean anything from a difference in the usual personality of the person to uncharacteristically quick rises in agitation or depression. Slurred speech can mean difficulty in pronouncing words, but it can also include difficulty calling forth the “right” word. Difficulty with memory can range from trouble recalling the incident or injury to short-term memory loss to trouble recalling well-known names, places, or memories. Cognitive changes can manifest themselves in confusion, a shortened attention span, overstimulation, difficulty following instructions or understanding information, or other feelings of confusion. Sensory changes refer to any shifts in an ability to hear, see, or taste, as well as hypersensitivity to light or sound.

The person in question may experience one, several, or none of these potential signs of a brain injury. The nature of brain injuries makes them incredibly varied and unique from person to person, so it’s important to remain vigilant about keeping an eye on your athlete and getting them the care they may need.

What are the Possible Effects?

Because they are the “control center” for our bodies, brain injuries can result in a number of outcomes, from treatable to life-altering, and anywhere in between. Brain injuries are usually categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, though these terms don’t necessarily indicate the severity of what a patient may experience long-term. For example, a “mild concussion” may still disable a person. What these categories can do, however, is help differentiate between the possible effects and treatments of brain injuries.

A mild brain injury is commonly called a concussion. There is usually no bleeding in their brain and no skull fracture. The person may or may not lose consciousness soon after the injury. Usually, a mild brain injury can be recovered from fully or to an extensive degree.

A moderate brain injury may be the result of a skull fracture or other visible injury to the head or face. They might lose consciousness or experience non-life-threatening bleeding. These types of injuries don’t usually require surgery, but the person may need to be kept under observation for a short period of time.

A severe brain injury can result in loss of consciousness or even a coma for an extended period of time. The skull may have extensive fractures, the brain may have been penetrated by a foreign object, and bleeding may be a serious concern. These injuries often require surgery to treat.

If severe enough, long-term effects of brain injuries can include:

  • Permanent loss of memory
  • Permanent change in personality or behavior
  • Loss of cognitive, sensory, speech, or motor functions
  • Paralysis
  • Coma
  • Change in normal body functions (like blindness or hearing loss)

Such life-altering effects can often result in the need for long-term or ongoing care, and may or may not be reversible with proper treatment.

Can a Sports-Related Brain Injury be Treated?

The human brain is only regenerative to a certain extent. If the athlete in question is a child, their still-developing brain may have more capacity to heal itself than a fully grown adult’s brain does. But even if the brain injury suffered is severe enough to keep the brain from returning to its “normal” state, the effects of brain injuries can usually be treated in some fashion, even if they can’t be fully healed.

Treatment for brain injuries is dependent upon the severity of the injury and its resulting effects. Even if a patient doesn’t recover their full functionality, a lot of great progress can be made through rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is a broad term for the repetitive and building exercises or practices that lead a patient closer to their “normal” functions. For example, if the brain injury has caused lameness in the limbs, rehabilitation may include therapy to practice standing, walking, or holding items. If the brain injury has caused difficulty speaking, rehabilitation may involve tongue and vocal cord exercises. If memory loss or personality changes occur, it may be left up to those close to the patient to work with them on understanding their new personality traits or recalling the memories that make up their life and relationships.

Because brain injuries can result in an array of effects and bodily damage, so too is the treatment for such effects varied. Finding the right treatment for your loved one’s brain injury involves understanding the injury, treating it medically, then working together with necessary professionals on creating a rehabilitation plan that works for both patient and caretaker.

Can a Lawyer Help with My Sports-Related Brain Injury?

It’s important to understand the risks involved with participating in any contact sports before you step onto the field, court, or other venue. There are many joys that come with participating in team sports, such as engaging in social competition and feeling the health benefits of good exercise. Many athletes are willing to risk the potential for severe injury in order to participate in an activity they love. If a brain or other injury arises as a natural and understood result of participating in your sport, it may be difficult to file a lawsuit and collect damages.

If, however, you believe your brain injury is the direct result of undue behavior or harm that is not considered normal in the scope of your sport, you may have a case to fight. For example, if another player attacked you, equipment was improperly used, or a coach forced you to participate in unsafe practices, they may be held liable for your brain injuries.

The right Missouri personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have the grounds to sue. If you do, your lawyer can gather evidence to support your claims and secure compensation from the responsible party to cover your medical bills, loss of income, pain and suffering, and more.