2014 Winter Olympics: Ski Jumping and Concussions
EVENT: SKI JUMPING
Ski jumping is the event in which competitors speed down a ramp to try and jump the greatest distance. In addition to how far the skiers jump, they are also given a score by judges on their technique and form while jumping. The sport was invented by Olaf Rye, a Norwegian lieutenant, in 1809. Together with cross-country skiing, ski jumping makes up another Olympic event known as the Nordic Combined. As you can imagine, hurdling yourself down a big ramp to jump as far as you can on skis often results in crashes and falls. That brings us to today’s topic of concussions.
What is it? A concussion is an injury to the brain that is usually the result of a traumatic blow to the head. Concussions can be mild or severe and can occur in such situations as falls, car accidents or being struck in the head by another object or person. Concussions usually are not life threatening, but there is always concern about impacts to the head because of the inherent risk for bleeding in the skull or brain in some patients that can have fatal consequences. Therefore, a cautious approach to patients with head injuries to effectively rule out serious injury is necessary before a diagnosis of concussion can be made.
What are the symptoms? Symptoms of a concussion may include loss of consciousness, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, blurry vision, loss of short-term memory or repeating the same questions over and over. Those patients that need to be seen emergently are those that have severe head trauma resulting in bleeding or lacerations, persistent confusion, prolonged or delayed loss of consciousness, severe headaches or those experiencing extreme drowsiness or weakness as these may indicate more severe injuries. Patients who remain unconscious for extended period should not be moved, have their neck stabilized and 911 should be summoned. Physicians will often make the diagnosis of concussion after asking about a patient’s medical history and the history of the injury in addition to performing an exam that tests nerve function and mental status. Additionally, they will look for associated injuries in other areas of the body, such as the neck, that may have occurred. Depending on the severity of the injury, physicians may order imaging of the brain to get a more detailed impression of internal damage to the brain.
What is the treatment? Initial treatment of concussions focuses on symptom management including ice application to any bumps or bruises and well as anti-inflammatory medications along with rest. When discussing rest, there is the obvious rest from physical activity that can exacerbate symptoms. Additionally, consideration of “mental rest” should be pursued because such activities as reading, active thinking and concentrating can contribute to continued symptoms as well. During the course of treatment and recovery, patients may also undergo neuropsychological testing of memory and concentration to help assess recovery from concussion. Once an athlete is symptom free, they can then pursue a gradual return to sport-specific activities and, if they remain asymptomatic, may return to full participation. Care must be taken, however, to not return athletes to competition too quickly because competitors with symptoms that have not completely resolved are at risk for second-impact syndrome which can be fatal or for re-injury which can have long-term, irreversible consequences in mental functioning and behavior.
How can it be prevented? Prevention of concussion can be best achieved by using appropriate protective headgear in contact sports such as football and hockey and in those sports where falls or crashes are possible such as cycling and skateboarding. Additionally wearing seatbelts can reduce concussion occurrence in auto accidents as can reducing clutter, wearing proper footwear and taking extra precautions on slippery surfaces to avoid falls. There is much debate in medicine as to whether athletic mouth guards can help to prevent or reduce the severity of concussions. While studies have not definitively proven the benefit of mouth guards in concussion prevention, there still is the benefit of preventing or minimizing tooth, tongue and other oral injuries by using mouth guards.
Random useless trivia about Ski Jumping: The ski jumper who was made famous in ABC’s Wide World of Sports opening sequence as “the agony of defeat” was Slovenian Vinko Bogataj whose March 21, 1970 failed jump at the Ski-Flying World Championships in Obersdorf, West Germany became synonymous with the phrase. His best finish ever was 57th in the individual normal hill event in the 1969 Four Hills Tournament in Bischofshofen, Austria.