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Five ways to protect yourself from brain injury while playing winter sports

January 15, 2018

January is Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, and hospitals in snow-covered states are seeing thousands of people who have experienced brain injuries due to falls or hits. The risk for brain injury is high with sports such as skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, sledding, hockey and ice skating. Nearly 30,000 people are treated annually in emergency departments for head injuries they’ve incurred while playing winter sports, estimates the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

A bump or blow to the head or a hit to the body can cause a concussion, a type of brain injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains such a jolt to the head causes the brain to twist in the skull or bounce, thereby damaging brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.

If you think you have suffered a head injury, see your doctor or visit the Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Emergency Department for an evaluation at the first sign of a concussion. Diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) may be performed to help doctors make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Play it smart: Protect your head and body while participating in winter sports

brain injury
  • Wear a helmet and protective gear. Whether you’re hitting the slopes of Park City, Utah, or gearing up for a hockey game at the local pond, wearing approved and properly fitted protective gear such as a helmet is a must. “I strongly advise people who engage in such sports to wear a helmet,” says Ryan Zengou, M.D., a Neurosurgeon with NCH Medical Group. “The brain is, in my opinion—and I may be biased as a neurosurgeon—the most important organ in the body. It’s irreplaceable. We don’t have machines that do its job and we don’t have any transplants to replace it. You want to protect your brain at all costs.”
  • Don’t be a daredevil! Know your limitations. For example, if you’re new to skiing, take classes and learn from experts. Get the basics and slowly work your way up to the bigger slopes and more challenging courses. Also, know when it’s time to take a short break to renew your energy and watch out at the end of the day when you may be more tired and prone to an accident.
  • Follow the sport’s rules and practice safe play. If you’re playing hockey with friends, enforce a “no hits to the head” way of play. Children should be supervised to ensure they stick to the rules.
  • Stay alert and know your surroundings. Scope out the ski course or sledding hill and make note of obstacles, knolls, blind spots, turns and sudden drops.

Neurological experts and leading-edge diagnostic technology

NCH is the only hospital in Illinois to receive the Healthgrades® Neuroscience, Stroke and Cranial Neurosurgery Specialty Excellence Award for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018). NCH’s Neuroscience Center specializes in treating complex neurological conditions affecting the brain, nerves and spinal cord. And, by teaming up with CereScan®, a leading provider of statistically measured brain diagnostics, NCH is able to offer one of the latest diagnostic technologies—qSPECT (quantitative Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography). qSPECT helps doctors make a more complete and accurate diagnosis of a brain injury.

Shaun O’Leary, M.D., Ph.D., FAANS, Medical Director of the NCH Neuroscience Center, says, “Through the clinical data, innovations and imaging software available through CereScan, we have the resources to make NCH an even higher-quality institution for diagnosing brain disorders.”

Learn more about brain injury and concussion symptoms, diagnostics and treatment at NCH.

For more information on NCH’s Neuroscience Center and to discuss if a consultation with Dr. O’Leary or Dr. Zengou may be appropriate for you or a loved one, call 1-844-9-NCH-BRAIN.

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