Your head can’t take too many bumps |

Your head can’t take too many bumps

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Vail Mountain School goalie Sean Minett didn’t remember much after suffering a concussion during a soccer game.

Minett, 16, was diving for the ball when he was kicked in the head.

“I was told it jarred my brain to the right. It didn’t hurt much at the time, but after about 15 minutes I started to get headaches and dizziness,” he said.

Head injuries like Minett’s are not uncommon in sports ” from “hard contact sports” like soccer and hockey to “impact sports,” like skiing and snowboarding, said Stephen Schmitz, a doctor at the Brain and Behavior Clinic in Boulder.

Schmitz talked about concussions and treatment with area sports trainers at the Colorado Athletic Trainer’s Association conference earlier this month.

Athletes should be monitored by trainers and doctors after getting a concussion, he said.

He emphasized useful tools to assess the seriousness of sports concussions.

“Baseline tests” are given before someone suffers a concussion. They measure a person’s ability and speed to remember words, letters and shapes and to distinguish colors and numbers. The test lets doctors know what the “normal” state of an athlete’s memory and brain functions are.

That way, when an athlete gets a head injury, doctors can see if his or her condition is worse than normal, he said.

Another test, the “sideline tests,” are a series of questions asked right after a concussion to see how serious the injury is, such as “What day is it?” or “What’s the score?”

Hitting your head skiing or snowboarding can happen pretty easily, said Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Director Ben Boyd.

All the team’s athletes take baseline tests, and their trainers and coaches are all trained to deal with concussions, Boyd said.

Riders cannot ride without a helmet, and the team encourages athletes to wear mouth guards, since many concussions are caused by jaw clenching, he said.

“If it’s just a head knock, they can sit up and take 10 to 20 minutes off,” Boyd said. “But if it’s more than a head knock, it’s definitely not something to take lightly.”

Usually the first thing to do if someone suffers a concussion is to make sure the person is awake and alert, then move them off the field or the slope, said Bryan Diekman, outreach director for the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail.

If the person is not awake, call the ambulance and do not move them, because there may be spinal cord injury, he said.

As part of its outreach program, the clinic sends trainers to work with teams in the valley and gives the baseline test to all teams.

Not all concussions involve blacking out, Diekman said, and just because someone does not lose consciousness does not mean the injury is not serious.

Complete rest is the best recovery. Any activity that raises the heart rate can make symptoms worse, he said.

“The cognitive effects can last longer than the physical,” Diekman said. “It can be double the time it takes to heal physically.”

That was the case with Minett. He was feeling better physically about five days later, but the cognitive effects still lingered, he said.

He was not passing his impact test, which tests simple word and visual memory, and he was having trouble remembering conversations and learning in class.

“In class I’d have to ask a question over and over again. I’d think I’d get it, but then later I’d forget and have to go back for extra help,” he said.

For people who get multiple concussions, the healing time is longer and symptoms are worse, Schmitz said.

Another Vail Mountain soccer player, Blake Armstrong, suffered a concussion when he was pushed during a game. Armstrong, who has had several concussions before, said this one was the worst.

“The next three days I was really in a fog, my reaction times seemed really slow, and it seemed to take a couple minutes for my brain and my eyes to focus if I looked a certain way,” he said.

He was doing light training again after five days, but was not cleared to play for 10 days. Even then, he continued having memory problems, forgetting conversations, or “blanking out,” he said.

Whether on the mountain or the field, chances of getting a concussion can come down to “dumb luck,” Diekman said.

“The biggest thing is not putting yourself at risk for it. There are a lot of sports out there and it happens. But you can lower the risk by being in shape for it, and wearing proper fitting equipment,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or

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