Unfortunately, head injuries are all too common in sports. Concussions occur in a variety of sports including soccer. Typically head-to-head or head-to-ground contact can result in injury ranging from a mild to severe concussion. These injuries should be taken seriously and the return to play taken slowly. A new study from a group of Canadian researchers indicates that the psychological and emotional response to head injury is much different from the responses to other types of injuries. The sluggishness and lack of energy that follows a concussion need to be taken into account when injured athletes return to play.
The study appears in the January 2009 issue of Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. It examined the mood state of three groups of athletes – those who had suffered a concussion, a musculoskeletal injury (sprains, fractures, etc) or no injury. Psychological and mood state analyses were performed over a two week period immediately after being injured. Players were given interviews to determined factors such as mental/emotional fatigue, vigor/energy, confusion, depression and anger.
The researchers found that after injury, athletes who suffered a concussion experienced a high degree of mental and emotional fatigue and a sizeable lack of vigor. These feelings of lethargy were greater than those experienced by athletes who had suffered a non-head injury and those who were not injured. They also persisted for at least two weeks after suffering the concussion. Interestingly, both groups of injured athletes experienced very mild depression after injury.
Following a concussion, there are a number of chemical and metabolic changes within the brain as it attempts to recover from injury. This often results in outward symptoms such as headache, nausea and lack of attention. The lethargy experienced by the concussed athletes is probably another, less obvious symptom of the injured brain.
The key finding of this study is that athletes suffering a concussion may experience lethargy, fatigue and suffer a lack of energy for several weeks after being injured. In some cases, athletes who received a concussion can be cleared from play after 7-10 days. Coaches should realize that even though they are cleared to play, these athletes may appear to be giving less that full effort. They should remember that this is a consequence of a neurolophysiological injury, one in which brain chemistry and metabolism may be altered from some time. Just a limping is an outward sign that an ankle injury is not fully healed, lethargy can be an indication that the athlete is still recovering from a concussion.
Hutchison M, Mainwaring L, Comper P, Richards DW, Bisschop SM (2009) Differential emotional responses of varsity athletes to concussion and musculoskeletal injuries. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 19: 13-19.