When one talks about concussions during sports, football and hockey are the typical talking points. Unfortunately, baseball players aren't immune to suffering head injuries. Though baseball isn't traditionally thought of as a contact sport, David Wright of the Mets and Hideki Kuroda of the Dodgers can definitely attest to the fact that it can be. Both players were hit with baseballs in the head last week resulting in head injuries classified as concussions.
Concussions are defined as an injury that results in a transient loss of normal brain function resulting from trauma. Any aspect of brain function can be affected including memory, reflexes, speech, balance, and proprioception.
Several hundred thousand athletes suffer concussions each year, and in fact, this number may be higher as there are probably many more cases that are unreported. Clearly, the incidence is higher in contact sports such as football and hockey, but any sports participant can be affected. One study found that more than 50% of college soccer players had symptoms of a concussion during a season.
When an athlete suffers a head injury, evaluation by a health care professional is imperative. Sometimes these injuries can cause damage to one's skull or blood vessels in the brain. Skull fractures can occur, as can strokes. Oftentimes a CT scan will be done on patients with head injuries to rule out these more severe complications.
Like most sports injuries, there are degrees of concussions with several different classification systems used. One of the more commonly used set of guidelines classifies grade I concussions as a transient brain injury with no associated loss of consciousness and post-traumatic amnesia, if present, lasts for less than 30 minutes. Grade II injuries may lose consciousness for less than 5 minutes or have post-traumatic amnesia for anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Grade III concussions are the most severe. These players should be sidelined for at least one month.
If no associated injuries are present, the preferred treatment is rest. Athletes should not return to play until they are asymptomatic for at least one week.
Some concussions are associated with post-concussive syndrome (ie. According to reports in the news, Kuroda) in which symptoms can persist for months. These symptoms include memory deficits, problems with concentration, headaches and fatigue, amongst other things.
One of the main problems with concussions is that if one suffers a head injury or concussion, they are more susceptible to a second brain injury if they return to play before making a complete recovery. The second concussion does not have to be very strong for it to have potentially deadly effects.
Mets fans are all too familiar with concussions after reading about Ryan Church's struggles with recovery last year. Hopefully for David Wright, his injury isn't as serious.
Given the increasing awareness of concussions in baseball players, it is possible that we will see some equipment modifications to make hats and helmets safer.