Kayaking and Concussions Part 1: What is a concussion?

In the past couple years, the word concussion has become an increasingly prevalent term.   Mainstream awareness of the true long-term impacts of concussions may have started in April 2011 when several NFL players sued the National Football League for knowing that repetitive concussions can cause the debilitating and latent disease known as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).   They were awarded over $500,000,000.  The CDC estimates there are between 1.6-3.8 million sports and recreation related concussion per year.

We think about concussions with skiing, biking, soccer, and we should with kayaking.  We think about helmets and we throw around the word “concussion” any time we hit our head.  But, what is a concussion? What are the signs and symptoms? How do we recover from a concussion? How do we know if and when it is safe to return to normal sport? And, are helmets really helping?  There is so much information yet still many questions regarding concussions, I thought it important to break it down into several parts. First part is kayaking, concussions, and what is it?

A concussion is type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), it happens when we get some kind of hit or bump to the head or the body that allows the head or the brain to move rapidly back and forth.  Note. . .a hit to the head or THE BODY. This rapid and sudden movement allows the brain to bounce around in the skull. Note. . . it isn’t the hit that results in the concussion, it is the trauma to the brain as it hits the inside of the skull that causes a concussion.  

With that definition, it is likely that many of us have had some hit to our head or body while kayaking.  Maybe we ran a waterfall that was bigger than anticipated, got flipped upside down and hit that unexpected rock, or maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and our friend boofed into our face.  Accidents happen, but how can we tell if that hit caused a concussion?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of a concussion usually fall into four categories:

Thinking/Remembering

Physical

Emotional

Sleep

Difficulty thinking clearly

Headache, fuzzy or blurry vision

Irritability

Sleeping more than usual

Feeling slowed down

Nausea or vomiting      Dizziness

Sadness

Sleeping less than usual

Difficulty concentrating

Sensitive to light or noise  Balance problems

More emotional

Trouble falling asleep

Difficulty remembering new information

Feeling tired, having no energy

Nervousness or anxiety

 

Keep In mind that some of these symptoms appear right away, however others may take longer. Some even days or months after the injury.  You may be on a kayaking trip and not notice the symptoms until you have return to ordinary life, work, or school and find thinking and concentrating is difficult.

You should seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Headache gets worse or does not go away

  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination

  • Repeated vomiting or nausea

  • Slurred speech

  • Look very drowsy or cannot wake up

  • Have one pupil larger than the other

  • Have convulsions or seizures

  • Cannot recognize people or places

  • Are getting more and more confused, restless, or agitated

  • Lose consciousness

We only have one brain, so let’s take care of it.  There is so much to know about concussions that understanding what a concussion is and its signs and symptoms are just the beginning. Keep your eye open for part 2: Recovery and When to Return to Sport.

JessicaYurtinus, MSPT

Physical Therapist, Sports Specialist, Kayaker

 

Comments on “Kayaking and Concussions Part 1: What is a concussion?”

  1. Cameron W
    November 27, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Does rolling in a kayak in the first 6 months after a concussion, potentially increase concussive symptoms? Does the roll move your head around too much?

    1. December 11, 2018 at 9:02 pm

      Hey Cameron –

      I’m sure that’s something to speak with your doctor about. I’ll put this up and see what other people say but one persons concussion is different from the next, there are so many variables involved. Clay

  2. Renae
    June 11, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    We hit a stump and were flipped I went under water and was pinned by the canoe and rushing rapid for about a minute. When I came up I couldn’t catch my breathe and was in shock. Was a horrible experience. I have had the worst headache going on day 3, emotional and a little off balance. Wondering if I should be seen or ride this out.

    1. July 4, 2019 at 4:15 am

      You can Google your symptoms but always be seen if it’s a ‘maybe’. Concussions are no joke and you should definitely cater your next few months to deal with the very much more likely possibility of a repeat. For some reason, the concussive injury creates new potential for they types of misjudgement that can lead to a second hit right when you need to avoid it most. I’m no MD – but consulting one is always the safe bet. Clay

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