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Mind your head: Prevent brain injury when participating in winter sports

January 31, 2017

As we close out January, which is Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, 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 a head injury they’ve incurred while playing a winter sport, 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 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.

NCH is offering an innovative technology known as qSPECT (quantitative Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) by teaming up with CereScan®, a leading provider of statistically measured brain diagnostics. 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.”

NCH is the only hospital in Illinois to receive the 2017 Healthgrades® Neurosciences, Stroke Care and Cranial Neurosurgery Excellence Award. Headed by Dr. O’Leary, the NCH Neuroscience Center specializes in treating complex neurological conditions affecting the brain, nerves and spinal cord.

Here are five ways to protect yourself while enjoying winter sports

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 also be supervised to ensure they stick to the rules.
  4. 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.
  5. Seek immediate medical help if you experience symptoms of a concussion.

To make an appointment with Dr. O’Leary, call 1-844-9-NCH-BRAIN.

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

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