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Concussion: It's Snow Joke

02 December 2015 By Verity Eyre

Concussion is Common Among Top Flight Skiers & Snowboarders

The Winter Olympics celebrates the pinnacle of winter sports talent as world class athletes represent their country to compete for the glory of a medal. Viewers are motivated to try skiing and snowboarding for the first time after seeing people land double corks and racing down the ski slopes. Long-time winter sports enthusiasts are inspired by the sheer brilliance they see before them.

Athletes train for years to reach this level of balance, precision, co-ordination and control. Injuries are an accepted hazard of the job as they strive to increase their amplitude or learn new tricks. Head injuries are common in top level skiing and snowboarding as the falls that occur are often at high speeds and from great heights.

In Sochi 2014 a number of athletes experienced concussions. British half-pipe skier Rowan Cheshire was knocked unconscious for several minutes in training. She was diagnosed with concussion and hospitalised overnight as a precaution. As a result of the concussion, Rowan was not able to compete in her event. In boardercross, 21 year old Jackie Hernandez landed awkwardly off a jump and slammed her head on the ground. Team officials said Jackie suffered a concussion. Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancochova took a nasty fall during the women’s snowboard slopestyle final, the force of which cracked her helmet down the back. There is no doubt that the helmet saved Sarka from a much more serious fate, potentially saving her life. New Zealand Snowboarder Christy Prior had to withdraw from the slopestyle event after reportedly sustaining a concussion during practice and Finish snowboarder Marika Enne also incurred a concussion during slopestyle training.

Many athletes who competed in Sochi have previously suffered multiple concussions prior to the event. World class halfpipe rider Shaun white has experienced an estimated 9 concussions. Top female snowboarder Torah Bright encountered 3 concussions in the run up to the Vancouver games which took 2 years of recovery, suffering with headaches and severe fatigue. Jenny Jones took team GB to glory with a bronze medal in the women’s snowboarding slopestyle competition. Jenny’s suffered a concussion during her journey to the Olympics. In an interview with the Telegraph Jenny said “I over-rotated on a cab-5 while training and really whacked my head……..the last 6 months or so were much tougher than I expected them to be. Usually your physio gives you a recovery plan. Whereas this wasn’t like this at all. No-one gave me a time-frame. They just told me to wait until the symptoms subsided and to rest and relax……… It’s called post-concussion syndrome. Concussion usually lasts around 10 days, but with this syndrome they don’t know how long it’s going to last. And that’s what was frightening……. It was all just a horrible experience.”

The media often overlooks quite how serious the impact of concussion can be and the injured athlete is quickly forgotten once the event is over. A concussion is a “mild” form of brain injury and athletes often face weeks, months or even years of recovery. Symptoms of concussion vary from person to person but can include dizziness and balance issues, fatigue, memory issues, concentration problems, slowed thinking, feeling over-whelmed, emotional outbursts, depression, anxiety, sensitivity to light and noise, loss of a sense of smell, headaches, problem solving difficulties, nausea, lack of self-control and impulsiveness. The effects of concussions are cumulative and repeat concussions often increase in severity and can even result in death.

If you or a friend suffers a bang to the head on the slopes this infographic by “The Crash Reel” has some advice. Often, concussed people may say they are fine in an attempt to “tough it out” but if you have any concerns at all, it is best to ensure they seek medical advice. Once it has been established that their life is not in danger, the best treatment is plenty of rest to allow the brain to heal. This means no tv, no texting, no reading, no loud music, no bright lights; just pure rest. It is also strongly recommended that concussed people avoid alcohol. Everybody recovers at different rates and recovery from a concussion should be gradual and can not be rushed.

You can learn more about concussion and brain injury at the headway website or through brainline.