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Long-Term Effects of Sports Concussions

Sports players and athletes are familiar with the risk of concussion, but recently there has been an increased discussion and look at the persistent symptoms and long-term effects of sport-related concussion.

While considered mild traumatic brain injuries, this doesn’t soften the serious repercussions of repeated concussions or the immediate effects they can have on sports players. With the new information coming out regarding the long-term impacts and outcomes of concussed athletes, let’s explore the lingering symptoms and potential long-term ramifications of sports-related concussions.

Sports Concussion Overview

A concussion is an invisible injury, though may be part of or in conjunction with head trauma (such as a head bump). They typically occur due to a forceful blow to the head, making the brain move rapidly within the skull and potentially damaging brain cells or creating chemical and electrical changes within the brain. While a concussion itself isn’t life-threatening, the impact, especially rapid concussions in a row, can be.

Symptoms of Concussions

Not all symptoms of concussion appear after the event, some symptoms linger or don’t appear till days following the impact; these symptoms typically include:

  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Trouble with concentration and memory
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes

Immediately following a concussion, other symptoms indicate one has occurred, as a concussion is an invisible injury, it’s important to take note of any of these symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Memory loss and amnesia around the impact event
  • A ringing in the ears
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Slurred speech

Long-term Effects of Concussions

The symptoms that develop days after a concussion has occurred could be considered long-term effects, but these are closer to “delayed symptoms” rather than chronic or lingering problems. The research into the long-term impact of concussions is fairly recent, detailing associated increases with dementia and repeated concussions being associated with developing a degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has Alzheimer-like symptoms and was discovered in the early 2000s.

The reason for this recent boom in sports-related concussion research is due to the advancement in brain scans, neurological research, and the amount of retired professional sports players submitting to surveys, finding the death rate from neurodegenerative diseases being three times higher for pro-foot ball athletes than the general population.

Beyond CTE, research has shown other long-term effects from sports-related concussions and repeated concussion events:

  • Concussions can lead to cognitive impairments, including difficulties with memory, attention, concentration, and processing speed. These effects can persist long after the initial injury.
  • Concussions can also contribute to emotional and behavioral changes, such as increased irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
  • Long-term effects of concussions can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, interfering with daily activities, relationships, work, and overall well-being.

Post-Concussion Syndrome

Another discovery made in concussion research is PCS (post-concussion syndrome). This is a chronic condition where the symptoms of a concussion are lingering, causing repeated headaches, dizziness, problems sleeping, and psychological and cognitive effects like problems with concentration, thinking, depressed moods, anxiety, and irritability.

Generally, these persistent symptoms can last from weeks to months and require medical intervention to alleviate them, such as antidepressants, psychotherapy, and pain medications.

Avoid the Long-term Effects and Cognitive Impairments of Repeated Mild Brain Trauma

As the saying goes in some sports, the best defense is an offense, and preventing concussions is not too different. The best way to avoid the long-term effects of concussions in sports is to avoid them entirely. By using properly fitted protective headwear, proper techniques, and adherence to the safety regulations in sports, the likelihood of a concussion occurring is substantially less.

While a concussion is a mildly traumatic brain injury, it is still a brain injury, and neurological research is uncovering the risks and lifelong effects still.

At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise for concussions and other sports-related injuries. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed previously or need treatment, we encourage you to call (253) 830 – 5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians.


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