A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a collision that causes the brain and the head to suddenly move back and forth. In its natural state, the brain is surrounded by protective fluid and membranes that separate the brain from the skull. However, according to Mayo Clinic, the sudden movement of a collision may cause the brain to move or twist within the skull, ultimately pushing the brain into the skull. This process can bruise the brain, tear nerve tissue, and damage or kill brain cells. The resulting damage is classified as a concussion.
According to the CDC, concussion symptoms are experienced in varying intensities and stages depending on the severity of the concussion. Common symptoms include memory loss, confusion, dizziness, headache, nausea, and general feelings of sluggishness. The CDC further explains that concussions can also have long term health impacts. Studies analyzing players in the National Football League (NFL) who suffered from concussions found those players were at higher risk of developing depression and cognitive issues. Similarly, another study found that ninety six percent of NFL players’ brains had signs of a brain disease known for impairing memory and judgment called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Beyond the NFL, the confrontational and fast paced nature of many contact sports makes athletes prone to concussions. Each year, an estimated 10% of athletes in contact sports are diagnosed with concussions in the United States, totaling 1.6 to 3.8 million sports related concussions annually.
Rates of youth concussions are similarly high and increasing rapidly. A study assessing the rates of concussion diagnoses over time found that concussion rates for high school athletes increased by 16% annually from 1997 – 2008. While it is unclear whether this sharp rise is caused by an increase in concussion injuries or an increase in diagnosis of injuries as concussions, research demonstrates that adolescents are more vulnerable to concussion injuries than other age demographics. One study assessing post-concussion cognitive impairments found that adolescents experienced greater susceptibility to severe, long-term brain damage following concussions, particularly in the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for cognitive functions such as memory and judgement, than did adults or younger children. Because the brain is reaching its final stages of maturity during adolescence, the brain is both more susceptible to injury and less equipped to respond to injury.