Mind your head: concussions and student athletes

By Hope Thompson, The Circuit.

In the fall of 2014, just a few weeks into her freshman season on the Women’s Basketball team, forward Kristen Murphy took a charge on the block. The back of her head whiplashed, hitting the ground and after taking a few seconds recovery, she stood up and finished the game.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow that kind of hurt,’ but I also was a freshman and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” she said.

Murphy came back the next day and played another game. It wasn’t until that evening she realized her headaches led to something more serious.

“I remember going to sleep and waking up super disoriented in the middle of the night,” she said. “I was very confused and very out of it.”

Infographic created by Trevor Svoboda.
Infographic created by Trevor Svoboda.

A lot of people, especially with their first concussion, aren’t initially aware of what they’re experiencing says Janet Adrian, Director of Student Health.

“It’s not a black-and-white issue. Every concussion is different,” she said. “Thankfully, there are so many studies out there now —people know more. I think that’s why we’re seeing more and more student athletes come in here for things like that.”

Murphy says the week following her concussion was the most difficult.

“I didn’t go to classes for a week and a half. It was hard. You’re so used to being so busy as a student-athlete and then someone tells you ‘lay in bed in a dark room, don’t read, don’t watch tv and wait for time to pass.’ It’s very frustrating.”

Though Student Health Services are able to treat concussions, Adrian says they often send the more serious cases to Dr. Pamela Rizza at Atchison Hospital for a more thorough evaluation.

In a recommendation letter sent by Rizza to Student Health Services, she says, “Concussions can have a dramatic, though usually short-lived, impact on the student’s school performance, behavior, sleep and memory.”

Typically, athletes can return to school after resting for a few days. However, schoolwork has the potential to worsen the symptoms of a concussion as well as prolong the recovery period.

“Most young people can recover from a concussion within a couple of weeks,” Adrian said. “But a concussion can be like a bruise, the brain needs time to rest and heal”

Murphy, now a senior, says though she hasn’t had a concussion since 2014, the possibility of one is always in the back of her mind when she’s playing.

“As a freshman, I remember being super anxious about it. It was a little scary, I didn’t really realize what it entailed.”

Student Health Services reminds that a concussion is still a brain injury, and should be taken seriously. Adrian encourages students to consult a physician right away after a large blow or bump to the head or neck.