Retired U.S. women’s soccer star Brandi Chastain announced this month she will donate her brain for research on concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Chastain, best known for scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup final against China, told the New York Times: “If there’s any information to be gleaned off the study of someone like myself, who played soccer for 40 years, it feels like my responsibility.”
Headlines about concussions in professional sports are certainly attention-grabbing, but millions of Americans sustain brain injuries each year – 3.5 million children and adults, estimates the Brain Injury Association.
The most common, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by trauma to the brain from an external force, occurs every 13 seconds in the U.S. and one of every 60 people live with a TBI-related impairment.
“Every head injury is as unique as the individual who sustained the injury,” said Dr. Edward Alvino, chief medical officer for benefits provider Unum. “A concussion is considered the least severe form of brain injury, but it is also a serious condition.”
Sports activities result in a high number of concussions, but falls lead to more head injuries each year than any other activity.
“Having a better appreciation of the nature and the severity of the injury plays a big part in better understanding the symptoms, the duration of the symptoms, and the expected time course of recovery,” Alvino said.
How do you know if you sustained a concussion? In a 2015 Harris Poll, 90% of Americans found it difficult to specifically identify their symptoms.
“A head injury can involve not only the brain but other structures, such as the neck, that may result in headache; damage to the ears with symptoms related to dizziness or hearing; or visual symptoms that can make you sensitive to light or effect your ability to read,” Alvino said. “If the injury was severe enough to disrupt your daily routine, early evaluation and intervention is important.”
The Cleveland Clinic suggests that if you have suffered a concussive injury, in addition to seeking appropriate care from your health care professional, you should consider notifying your coworkers and boss. Accommodations from your employer may assist in your recovery process and allow you to gradually return to work by adjusting your workload, allowing for increased breaks, or providing extra time to complete your tasks.
The month of March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. More information is available from the Brain Injury Association of America or the Centers for Disease Control.