The changing landscape of concussions

Dr. Budd Renier
Dr. Budd Renier

Dr. Budd Renier, MD
Cambridge Medical Center

Are concussions really more common than they used to be? Why have we seemed to hear more about them within the past few years? Is there really anything that can be done other than just waiting it out? These are questions that our concussion team hears many times each week.

We have learned a lot since we started our concussion management program at Allina Health-Cambridge Medical Center in 2008.

Concussions are definitely reported more than they used to be. This is not just due to the Minnesota law passed in 2011 mandating removal of an athlete from competition when a concussion is suspected, or the notoriety given to the issue by the debate within pro sports. It is also due to increased awareness of the signs and symptoms of this traumatic brain injury, and to decreased stigma of having a concussion. There are still many people who don’t take concussions seriously. Whether you yourself are injured, or you are with someone else who has potentially sustained a concussion, it is essential to receive medical attention. With the huge increase in youth sport opportunities available to our young people, it is currently estimated that there are about four million concussions in the United States annually, and unfortunately many still go undiagnosed and untreated. Parents, coaches and teachers in particular all need to be aware of the long-term effects of these injuries.

Our patients agree with us when we say a concussion is like shaking up a snow globe, but it’s not pretty flakes falling … it’s a chemical blizzard. The good news is we have learned that in many cases there is more that can be done than just waiting out the storm. Medical staff can monitor and help manage concussions. To help patients navigate the challenges, stresses, frustrations and often painful ways concussion can affect a person’s life.

Every concussed patient deserves a targeted approach to the symptoms they are having, whether it is mainly headaches, dizziness, vision problems, trouble thinking/concentrating/remembering things, mood changes, and/or neck pain. Once symptoms are identified, patients can begin targeted treatments when necessary. For all of this to happen, those people who are around a concussion patient need to realize the seriousness and effects of their injury.

Although much of the emphasis around concussions has been placed on return to play/work issues, more energy is now also being directed toward the academic/workplace challenges of returning to learning, and to determining appropriate accommodations for each patient. The Cambridge Medical Center concussion team recently hosted the first summit in Minnesota including school representatives from east central Minnesota and the north metro region, to figure out ways to make things better for concussed students. It is exciting to work with so many people in our communities who are incredibly devoted to helping our young people.

The medical community encourages everyone to be aware of concussion symptoms and help educate those around you regarding the serious, debilitating and potentially life-long effects of concussions, not to mention the dangers and difficulties of leaving them untreated.

Whether it is returning to work, play, learning or living day-to-day, seeking medical attention for a potential concussion will help patients manage their symptoms with the most up-to-date methods available. While ignoring or downplaying the seriousness of these injuries creates an unhealthy environment that will not benefit any one.