Post-Concussion Dilemma

If you’re the type of person that’s really into any type of contact sports, it’s likely that you’ve had a concussion before. You know that following a concussion, you’d be told to hit the bench, put some ice on your head, and not to go to sleep. Why are we told to do so, though? What really happens in the brain after a concussion?

A concussion happens when the brain makes contact against the inside of a person’s skull, usually when the head is bumped. It’s really quite common in many sports, but there is always the question of if damage from concussions accumulates over years and can cause serious brain issues. If you’re always getting concussions from playing American Football, are you in risk of developing problems with your memory and thinking processes as you grow older?

A noteworthy experiment from scientists at the National Institutes of Health, USA, provided an answer to these questions as they were able to observe the brain and its encasing skull in animals immediately after having received a concussion.

The scientists were able to shave away at the skull of a lab mouse, to the point where it’s thin enough to allow special lenses to see through it. Then, they simulated a concussion in the mouse’s head, and were able to record the events in real-time.

To understand what happened next, it is important to note that aside from the skull, the brain also has multiple protective layers or membrane around it. These are situated between the brain and the skull. When the concussion was induced, it was discovered that the impact of the brain against the skull causes these protective membranes to rip, and cause a gap between the brain and skull. Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species, fill up this gap almost instantaneously. These free radicals are utilized in the body for anti-inflammatory purposes in case of injury, but they are also known to cause cell death and tissue damage in the brain.

Free radicals in the brain as a result of a concussion can therefore, damage the brain in ways that may prove detrimental to one’s overall brain health. Which also a reason why people are told not to sleep after a concussion – there may be damage in the brain even if a person may seem fine. Sleeping after a concussion may not cause anything towards the person, but someone watching that person may not be able to tell they are in trouble when asleep.

So the next time you’re playing any contact sports and get a concussion, it’s a good idea to listen to what the first aid professional who is there to assist you. Check with the doctor after the game, and if he advises you not to sleep, listen – you might not wake up if you don’t.

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