Everything You Need To Know About Concussions And Snowboarding

If you snowboard, you probably know someone who has gotten a concussion, or maybe you’ve even had one yourself.

But how much do you really know about concussions?

If you’re going to snowboard, you need to understand what concussions are, how they happen, and what to do if you think you have a concussion. If you don’t have this knowledge, you won’t know to prevent yourself from getting a concussion or recover from one.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through the what, why, and how of concussions. We’ll talk about preventative measures you can take, why you should treat them seriously, and how to heal after a concussion.

Ready? Let’s get started.

What Is A Concussion?

Before we talk about concussions and snowboarding, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding exactly what a concussion is.

A concussion is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused by a blow to the head or body in which both the head and brain are jolted violently. The hit can literally cause the brain to move and twist within the skull, causing temporary, or even permanent damage.

As the Mayo Clinic notes:

Your brain has the consistency of gelatin. It’s cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by cerebrospinal fluid inside your skull.

A violent blow to your head and neck or upper body can cause your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner walls of your skull.

Sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, caused by events such as a car crash or being violently shaken, also can cause brain injury.

Although most commonly associated with contact sports like American football, concussions can be caused by many different things, including car and bike accidents, falling, and even snowboarding.

Symptoms Of A Concussion

There are a number of symptoms associated with having a concussion. Some of these symptoms may appear shortly after a person receives a blow to the head or body, while others may take hours or even days to manifest. If you think that you or someone you know may have a concussion, it’s critical to look for these symptoms.

According to the CDC, some of the most common concussion symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Losing consciousness (even for brief periods)
  • Inability to remember things both before and after the blow
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Being dazed
  • Difficulty answering questions
  • Grogginess
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Clumsy movements
  • Problems with memory
  • Changes in mood, behavior, or personality

Concussions and Snowboarding

Concussions are a relatively common injury for snowboarders. One study noted that concussions account for approximately 20% of skiing and snowboarding injuries every year. Another study noted that snowboarders get head and neck injuries at a 50% higher rate than skiers.

What’s more, traumatic brain injury is a contributing factor in between 42.5% – 88% of fatal skiing and snowboarding accidents.

Is Snowboarding Safe?

Of course, these statistics raise a critical question: is snowboarding safe?

The short answer is: yes, with the proper safety precautions.

First, it should be noted that there is risk of concussion with almost every sport. As one study noted, whether you’re playing baseball, soccer, lacrosse, or football, there is the possibility of receiving a concussion. Snowboarding is no different in this respect.

What’s more, the rate of head and neck injuries with skiers and snowboarders is only 0.09 – 0.46 per 1,000 outings, so the overall risk is relatively low. To say that snowboarding is particularly dangerous compared to other sports is incorrect.

It’s more appropriate to say that, just like every other sport, there are risks associated with snowboarding and that there are specific steps that can be taken to minimize those risks.

How To Avoid Snowboarding Injuries

Now let’s talk about some specific ways to avoid snowboarding injuries, including but not limited to concussions.

The first, and most obvious strategy is to wear a helmet when you’re snowboarding. Concussions are usually the result of a direct blow to the head, whether from a fall or from hitting something like a tree. Wearing a helmet protects your head and can minimize injuries.

In 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety estimated that helmets could potentially prevent 44% of adult head injuries and 53% of child head injuries. Wearing a helmet can’t totally prevent a concussion but it certainly can make it less likely that you’ll receive one when snowboarding.

Keck Medicine of USC notes:

Helmet use alone is responsible for a reduction of potentially serious head injuries, including paralysis; significant cervical, thoracic or lumbar fractures; and concussions. Together, these injuries dropped to 3% of all ski injuries, over the course of a 17-year study (1995-2012), down from 4.2%, initially, during the study period.

In addition to wearing a helmet, you may want to consider getting trained by a professional snowboarding instructor. Injuries on the slopes can be the result of a lack of skill or knowledge. A professional instructor can help you become a better snowboarder and avoid injuries.

Because snowboarding involves constant leg and hip movement, doing exercises that strengthen both can help you avoid falling. Verywell Fit recommends doing the following exercises for stronger legs and hips:

  • Planks
  • Side plans
  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Weighted step ups
  • And more…

Finally, when you’re tired, take a break or stop altogether. The more fatigued your muscles, the less control you have on the slopes, making it easier to fall or run into something. Pay attention to your body and respond to the signals it’s sending you.

Initial Concussion Diagnosis

If you experience a concussion, it’s essential that you give your brain time to recover. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association notes:

A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first – usually within a short period of time (hours, days, or weeks) – can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in edema (brain swelling), permanent brain damage, and even death.

In other words, if you receive another concussion shortly after an initial concussion, it can cause significant problems for your brain. Proper treatment following a concussion is essential.

If you think that you or someone you know has a concussion, you should seek professional medical evaluation. In addition to asking questions about your injury, your doctor may also perform physical and neurological tests, including:

  • Balance
  • Reflexes
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Coordination
  • Memory
  • Concentration

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may also recommend a brain imaging test, such as a CT scan or MRI. You may also be asked to stay overnight at the hospital for observation.

Concussion Treatment

After experiencing a concussion, you need to rest, both physically and mentally, so that your brain can recover from the injury. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding all activities that demand high amounts of concentration, including things like video games, television, schoolwork, etc. You should also avoid any physical activities that cause your concussion symptoms to worsen.

As you recover, it’s essential to pay close attention to how your body is responding. After the initial recovery period, you can begin slowly incorporating mental and physical activities back into your life. But don’t try to rush back into everything you were doing prior to the concussion. If a particular activity triggers your symptoms again, back off it.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend doing only partial school or workdays, or that you take breaks during the day. The Mayo Clinic also notes that light physical activity or exercise can also increase recovery speed, but you should only do it if it doesn’t worsen any of your concussion symptoms.

If you’re having headaches from your concussion, talk to your doctor about which pain medications are appropriate and safe for treatment.

When Can You Start Snowboarding Again?

So when can you actually start snowboarding again after having a concussion? Ultimately, that’s a conversation you need to have with your doctor. At a minimum, all of your concussions symptoms should be resolved. If you’re experiencing problems, it’s a sign that your brain has not sufficiently healed and that it’s too soon to start snowboarding.

Talk to your doctor about the timeline for getting back into snowboarding. As much as you want to get back on the slopes, be patient and heed your doctor’s counsel. Rushing back into snowboarding too quickly can ultimately hurt you.

The CDC says the following about returning to activities following a concussion:

It is important to monitor symptoms and cognitive function carefully during each increase of exertion. Athletes should only progress to the next level of exertion if they are not experiencing symptoms at the current level. If symptoms return at any step, an athlete should stop these activities as this may be a sign the athlete is pushing too hard. Only after additional rest, when the athlete is once again not experiencing symptoms for a minimum of 24 hours, should he or she start again at the previous step during which symptoms were experienced.

The “Through Darkness” Project

Snowboarders Melissa Brandner and Manuela Mandl both experienced multiple concussions and the painful aftereffects that accompany them. To help raise awareness of the serious effects of concussions on snowboarders, they created the film Through Darkness.

As Brandner told Whitelines:

We wanted to raise awareness around concussions in snow sports, action sports and how serious they can be and how even small ones can actually cause issues if you don’t take notice of it. But also, just to create more talk and openness about the side effects of sports injuries, especially mental side.

In the same interview, Manuela said:

There needs to be so much more talk about this. There can also be long term mental side effects and if people don’t know about it… The cause of depression might be a concussion and if you don’t know that, things can become very hard. That’s just one of the side effects.

Through Darkness is a important because it was done by snowboarders for snowboarders. Snowboarding, like many other outdoor sports, can have some extreme elements, like huge jumps, grinding on rails, spins, and flips. If you experience a concussion while doing one of these things, you may be tempted to try to shake it off and keep going.

Manuela and Brandner encourage just the opposite. They encourage you to rest and recover, giving your brain adequate time to heal. They also encourage you to get professional treatment to ensure a thorough recovery.

Protect Your Brain

There is nothing more important than protecting your brain. If you want to enjoy many years of snowboarding, it’s critical that you take appropriate steps to avoid concussions and give yourself plenty of time to heal after a concussion.

Wear a helmet, get professional training, and strengthen your legs and hips to give you more control on the slopes.

If you do experience a concussion, be patient with the recovery process. When asked whether it takes the mind longer to heal than the body, Melissa Brandner told Whitelines:

I definitely think so. I think the frustrating thing is that when you have a torn ligament you have a plan and know when you will get better. But having a head injury, no one can tell you how long it will take to recover. They can just tell you that you will recover but they can’t tell you how long it will take.

If you try to get back too soon, you can make things worse. Repeat concussions could potentially even end your ability to snowboard altogether.

So should you snowboard? Yes, absolutely.

Just protect your brain while you’re doing it.

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