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From skating to skiing, January is the perfect time to enjoy your favorite outdoor sports. In honor of National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, FastMed offers the following guide to winter sports safety.

How Common Are Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sports?

According to the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, there are roughly 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. each year. This includes concussions, diffuse brain injuries, epidural hematomas, subdural hematomas, and second-impact syndrome. The majority of these injuries occur in athletes under the age of 15. Winter sports, such as snowboarding and skiing, are among the sports with the highest number of head and neck injuries.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a common type of head injury that occurs when a blow to the head causes the brain to twist or move rapidly back and forth inside the skull. This bouncing and twisting action can stretch and damage brain cells resulting in swelling and bleeding within the brain or between the brain and the skull. It can also trigger chemical changes that can affect cognition and neurological performance.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion?

The severity and duration of concussion symptoms can vary based on the severity of the injury. Common head injury symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Blurred vision or unequal pupil size
  • Behavioral and personality changes
  • Balance issues and other neurological deficits
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating

How Is a Concussion Diagnosed?

It is important to see a medical provider following any type of head injury. Even in the case of a serious injury, the signs and symptoms may not become apparent for hours or even days following the initial injury. A medical provider can perform neurological, cognitive, and imaging tests to determine the presence and extent of any injury. Depending on the extent of the injury, your medical provider may recommend inpatient or at-home monitoring for the first 24 hours to ensure that your symptoms do not worsen.

How Is a Traumatic Brain Injury Treated?

You must allow your brain time to recover following your injury. This means getting plenty of physical and mental rest and avoiding activities that require physical exertion or mental concentration. The following steps can help speed up your recovery:

  • Avoid using aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, stimulants, and antidepressants until a medical provider tells you it is safe. These medications can mask injury symptoms during the acute phase of the injury or increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Be sure to follow up with your medical provider as instructed.
  • Follow your medical provider’s instructions regarding activity restrictions, and consult your doctor before engaging in sports or any other type of strenuous physical activity.

What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome occurs in some patients following head injuries. The symptoms are often vague, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating, and can last for weeks to months following the initial injury. In some cases, the symptoms are so severe that they affect daily life and the ability to perform normal activities at work or school. Most patients eventually recover with additional rest and by reducing stress. Medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes may be used to treat specific symptoms associated with the condition, such as headaches, depression, and anxiety.

How Can I Prevent Winter Head Injuries?

Most head injuries can be eliminated with basic common sense and safety measures:

  • Always wear a helmet and other appropriate safety gear when participating in sports and activities where there is the possibility of a fall or blow to the head.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Before skiing, snowboarding, or ice skating, be sure to check for possible safety threats, such as hidden obstacles, that can lead to an accident.
  • Follow all rules and boundaries. For example, don’t snowboard, ski, or skate in areas that are marked as off-limits or dangerous.
  • Know your limits and abilities. Remember that the athletes that you see competing on TV are able to make extreme sports and tricks look effortless because they have spent years and thousands of hours perfecting their skills.

To protect yourself from serious concussion-related complications, FastMed offers convenient pre-injury baseline concussion testing at all Phoenix, AZ clinics, and post-injury concussion testing at all Sports Medicine clinics. We encourage patients who come to us with injuries to gain PriorityAccess by checking in online and completing their e-registration to ensure that they are seen as quickly as possible. When you arrive at the clinic, let the receptionist know that you registered using PriorityAccess, and we will escort you to the first available exam room.

About FastMed

FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates more than 100 locations across Arizona, North Carolina and Texas, providing a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days per year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation services at all of its clinics, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than 5.8 million patients since the opening of its first clinic in 2005, and is the largest urgent care operator to be awarded the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval® for accreditation in healthcare quality and safety in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit www.FastMed.com.

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