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An Athlete’s Headache: Navigating the Complex World of Concussions And Sports

Kaitlyn Clark
Senior Kaitlyn Clark’s X-ray of her jaw before it had to be wired shut.

Your eyes open. It’s bright and blurry. As your eyes focus, faces start to become clearer, and you realize what just happened. Something or someone has hit your head so intensely you lost consciousness.  

Blows to the head like this are known as concussions.  

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a hit to the body causing the brain to move rapidly and knock against the inside of a person’s skull, which causes a bruise to form on the brain. 

This results in a temporary impairment of some brain functions. There is no specific cure for concussions other than rest and restricted physical and mental activity. 

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Continuous brain trauma can result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is when nerve cells in the brain die, a consequence known as degeneration. CTE, like other brain-related diagnoses, progresses over time.  

One girls Varsity soccer player, senior Kaitlyn Clark, suffered a concussion in last spring’s first varsity soccer playoff game. Clark broke her jaw, which had to be wired shut, taking months to recover.  

“All I wanted was to get back to my sport,” said Clark. “I was absolutely miserable and in constant pain. It felt like forever waiting to be cleared by the doctors and then by the school since I got injured during a school game.” 

According to an article published by the Journal of Athletic Training, published by the National Library of Medicine, soccer and football are the two sports with the highest rates of concussions in the United States. 

The school’s head football coach, Craig Bennett said after one of his players has had a concussion, he takes the severity of the injury into consideration when deciding whether to put that student back on the field. He said he does not rush the process.  

“We go above and beyond in today’s game to keep them out of the game,” said Bennett.  

Cambridge partners with Northside Hospital Orthopedic Institute of Sports Medicine, so when student athletes are injured during a school sporting event like a soccer game, football game or cheerleading competition, not only do they go through their personal pediatrician but also the Return to Play program the school requires.   

The Return to Play protocol is a 6-step process an injured athlete must go through to make a safe and timely recovery.  

“The Return to Play is handled completely by our Athletic Trainer,” said Bennett.  

According to the National Library of Medicine, symptoms are much worse than a headache. Impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, Parkinson’s disease and ultimately death are just some of the things that may accompany a CTE diagnosis, which is why many doctors recommend taking players out of their sport as soon as they’ve shown signs of brain damage.  

Northside Hospital concussion specialist Dr. Daniel Charek treats young athletes who have suffered concussions while on the field or court.  

“Every brain is different, so concussions can have a different effect depending on the patient, but my main goal is to get these young athletes back to their sport,” said Charek.  

“When I was younger, I used to play sports, and I remember how important it was for me to get out on the field with my teammates. The last thing I’d want to do is permanently take someone out of their sport,” he said. 

However, for many athletes, like junior Carissa Jenkins, quitting their sport is not an option. Jenkins said she has suffered three soccer-related concussions, her first being when she was seven (not from soccer) and then her first soccer related concussion was in 6th grade in 2018. She also endured two knee surgeries in two years and is hoping to make a full return to the Cambridge girls soccer team this coming winter. 

“I love soccer. I’ve had injuries before like my knee and concussions, but I still won’t quit because it’s a passion I’ve had since I was a little kid,” said Jenkins. “I won’t quit soccer until I absolutely have to,” said Jenkins.  

Most athletes are aware of the three concussions rule, which is a myth all athletes have heard. With the average number of two concussions per person in a lifetime according to the National Institutes of Health, TBI can have long term effects like chronic headaches.  

“The brain is the most essential part of the human body,” said Charek. “I cannot stress the importance of a healthy brain in these growing athletes.” 

Concussions can affect teens’ physical health, as well as their mental health. They can cause increased anxiety and depressive episodes.  

No one considers how difficult it is to quit something that they’ve trained so vigorously for years just to be taken out from a tap to the temple.  

“[Football] is a contact sport, and it will always be a part of the game,” said Bennett. “Any activity can result in multiple injuries. But the love for that activity sometimes outweighs the risk.”  


This story was originally published on The Bear Witness on November 1, 2023.