Concussions are a real concern in the sport of roller derby and are taken very seriously. Learn more about concussions and recovery from concussions in this interview with Ryan Lowery, the founder and executive director of the Derby Injury Prevention Network.
Concussions are a common occurrence in contact sports like roller derby, but they’ve only recently been recognized as serious injuries with the potential for significant impairment. Previously, athletes who sustained concussions often had their injuries dismissed as merely “getting their bell rung,” and were frequently sent right back out to play. It wasn’t until many former professional football players developed permanent brain damage and encephalopathy due to years of repeated concussions that the serious nature of this injury was realized. In extreme cases, some players committed suicide due to loss of function and other psychological effects.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury. In fact, all concussions, even those that only cause a person to “see stars,” are the result of the brain being injured to some extent. Usually concussions occur with a blow to the head, but they can also result from the head or upper body being violently shaken. Symptoms may present immediately or be delayed, and include confusion, ringing in the ears, headache or head pressure, nausea, temporary loss of consciousness, and fatigue. Other symptoms include problems with concentration and memory, irritability, sensitivity to light and sound, sleep disturbances, disorders of taste and smell, and depression.
Ryan Lowery MS, ATC;L is the founder and executive director of the Derby Injury Prevention Network and an expert in concussion treatment. He said that athletes who report their injuries immediately and adhere to prescribed restrictions do much better in terms of returning to normal life activities including work, school, and return to play than athletes who do not.
According to Lowery, the chances of exacerbating the injury and/or sustaining a catastrophic or fatal event dramatically decrease if the athlete begins treatment as soon as possible.
Lowery calls the first 72 hours after a concussion a window of opportunity for recovery and said total physical and mental rest are required. “Nobody likes to be told to go sit in a dark room and do nothing, but it’s the best way we know to heal the brain.”
Lowery said that once the symptoms start to resolve, activities such as watching TV, reading for pleasure, and light homework may be gradually reincorporated in small increments.
“I may have a student try going to school for a couple of classes or a half day to see how they respond,” he said. “If symptoms return, we halt the progression and try again the next day, so long as symptoms subside.”
While many athletes want to jump right back into exercise, Lowery said that physical activity is reintroduced last and not until the athlete is able to successfully return to work or school. And even then, he said, exercise is carefully monitored and resumed at a low intensity for short durations.
“Step 1 is usually 20 minutes of light to moderate intensity walking,” he said. “If symptoms return, we halt for that day and try again the next day, assuming symptoms subside.”
As for how long it takes to recover, Lowery said there is no set timeframe and it depends on the athlete and the injury.
“This could take 7-10 days, weeks, or months,” he said. “Everyone is truly unique and different in how they respond to their head injury.”