“Excessive risk-taking? Probably not a good idea.”
Nobody wants to have a concussion, officially known as a mild traumatic brain injury. While many people want to know how they can prevent one, the problem is that most concussions are accidents, so prevention strategies can only go so far.
“There's no absolute way to stop all concussions,” admits Steven Flanagan, MD, chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Health. In fact, the top three causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are falling, being hit by an object, and car crashes—and often these things are completely out of your control.
However, you can certainly minimize your risk of having these types of accidents that cause concussions: It all comes down to common-sense precautions.
Following these tips could help lower your risk of TBIs:
1. Wear a helmet
Helmets should always be worn when using a bike, motorcycle, skateboard, etc., or when playing contact sports. Make sure the helmet fits well, and that you are wearing the helmet properly.
Keep in mind that helmets don’t completely eliminate the risk of concussions, but they do help reduce the risk of severe TBIs, which tend to come with skull fractures, bleeding, and other structural injuries. “It's the brain moving inside of the skull that actually causes a concussion, and a helmet will not prevent that from happening,” says Dr. Flanagan.
2. Always wear your seat belt when driving or riding in motor vehicles
Even if you prize yourself on being a defensive driver, accidents happen. Wearing a seat belt reduces the chances you’ll hit your head (on the steering wheel, for example) or be thrown from the car.
3. Avoid excessive risk-taking
Trying the “black diamond” slope the first time you go skiing? Riding an untrained horse on a steep, cliffside trail without a helmet? Driving 30 MPH over the speed limit on the way to the airport during a snowstorm? These are not great ideas, to put it mildly, and they all increase your risk of getting into accidents that could result in a concussion (and more).
4. Make sure your coaches + trainers are educated
Preventing a concussion is one thing, “but I think what's equally important is to be able to identify concussions when they happen,” says Dr. Flanagan, “because if you miss a concussion, [such as] in a sporting event, you could mistakenly send somebody back in, and if they've had a concussion, their balance [and] their reaction times may be off. You're setting them up for another concussion.”
Furthermore, recognizing a concussion right away can help the athlete get seen by a medical professional sooner, which may improve recovery time.
“It's just a lot of common sense, and being careful and cautious,” says Dr. Flanagan. “There's a lot of value to playing sports, and there's a lot of value to exercising, and getting out on a bicycle and skiing … so you don't want to stop that, but use caution.”
Dr. Flanagan is the chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Health. He specializes in brain injury rehabilitation.
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A reasonable question to ask healthcare providers
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or anybody who's involved in sporting or any situation
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where someone may be at risk for concussion is,
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you know, how do you prevent them?
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So there's no absolute way to stop all concussions.
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It'll just never happen.
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One question that I'm asked is, you know,
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how do you prevent concussions?
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What's some common-sense things to do?
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And oftentimes my response to that is,
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well, it is common sense.
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Excessive risk-taking, probably not a good idea.
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Making sure that your coach or athletic trainer
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is aware of what concussion is,
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and know what to do if one occurs.
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Helmets. I would certainly never recommend
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somebody ride a bicycle or ride a skateboard
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without a helmet, but still, a helmet's not going
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to truly eliminate concussions because it's the brain moving
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inside of the skull that actually causes a concussion,
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and a helmet will not prevent that from happening.
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But I think what's equally important is to be able
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to identify concussions when they happen
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because if you miss a concussion,
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particularly, let's say, in a sporting event,
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you could mistakenly send somebody back in,
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and if they've had a concussion, their balance may be off,
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their reaction times may be off.
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You're setting them up for another concussion.
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When in doubt, take them out.
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Even if you're not sure, well maybe they really didn't have
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a concussion, but you have a little doubt, take them out.
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It's just the safest thing to do.
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And I would say that's probably the most important thing to do,
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recognizing when it happens.
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But it's just a lot of common sense,
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and being careful and cautious.
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And understanding that people in general
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have to live their lives, and there's a lot of value
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to playing sports, and there's a lot of value to exercising,
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and getting out on a bicycle and skiing,
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and there's real value in that, so you don't want to stop that,
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but use caution, and just common sense sometimes.
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HEADS UP: responding to a concussion and action plan for coaches. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on March 9, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_respondingto.html.)
Management of acute moderate and severe traumatic brain injury. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on March 7, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/management-of-acute-moderate-and-severe-traumatic-brain-injury.)
Traumatic brain injury and concussion: prevention. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on March 9, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/prevention.html.)Traumatic brain injury: epidemiology, classification, and pathophysiology. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on March 9, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/traumatic-brain-injury-epidemiology-classification-and-pathophysiology.)