While it’s important to always be as safe as possible, when purusing our sports—particularly ones at altitude and speed, like climbing, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, mountaineering and skiing—bodily injury is, at some point or another, simply a cost of doing business (no matter how padded or prepared we think we are). Sometimes, those injuries go unnoticed. The worst offenders, as well as one of the riskiest, are concussions.
So, you’ve tumbled off your bike and banged your head. What are some signs you’re at risk?
“Difficulty focusing on a task—even just reading—headaches, and sensitivity to light,” says Chuck Brockman, Director of Bend Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon. “Those are probably the biggest symptoms.”
Though we mostly hear about concussions in the context of professional contact sports, cycling accidents are the #1 cause of them, responsible for more than 85,000 a year. Water sports (#5), fitness accidents (#8) and winter gravity sports (#9) also make the top 10 list of sports responsible for concussions. Simply put, if you're at risk of bumping your head, you’re vulnerable.
Whenever the skull takes a serious blow, the brain rattles within, knocking against the skulls’ contours. The brain bruising that follows—severity increasing with degree of trauma—can manifest some serious consequences. Even helmets can only do so much to protect you.
“If you have another impact within a relatively short period of time, maybe as long as three months," says Brockman, "you’re at much greater risk for having greater, significantly debilitating injury.”
In grave instances, second-impact syndrome can occur, which in extreme cases can result in permanent disability, or death.
“Even if you’re feeling good, you still need to get cleared, because a lot of times people think they’re doing well; they’re not well enough to get back into a higher risk activity,” Brockman says.
The moral of the story is, if you’re feeling off after you've knocked your noggin, get checked out by a doctor. Modern impact tests are fairly good at identifying a concussion, as well as how bad the damage is.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, because the potential for significant permanent catastrophic injury due to second-impact syndrome is something you really don’t want to play around with,” Brockman warns.
Recovery is direct. Rest, and stay away from high-risk situations. Depending on how hard you took a whacking, expect your recovery to take anywhere from two weeks to a year.