Cycling can be a safe, enjoyable way to get good exercise, but there are some risks involved. Concussions are particularly serious as they can cause irreversible, life-long damage if not properly diagnosed and treated. Those who enjoy mountain biking have a higher risk than those who bike around their neighbourhood and to and from a nearby park; even so, anyone who enjoys cycling on a regular basis would do well to understand what a concussion is, how one should be diagnosed and treated, and how to avoid a sports concussion in the first place.
What is a Concussion?
Put simply, a concussion is when the brain hits the side of the skull. It can occur when a person falls from his or her bike, is in a car crash, or even when an individual suddenly stops or twists his or her head.
Some people are knocked unconscious as a result of a concussion, or they experience other, immediate symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, inability to sleep, irritability, cognitive problems, and a sensitivity to light and sound. Others, however, don’t experience symptoms right away and so opt to get on with their lives and continue exercising, go to work, or leave home to spend time with family and/or friends.
How Should a Sports Concussion be Treated?
A person who has experienced a head injury while cycling should immediately seek medical help even if he or she does not have any symptoms of a concussion. A doctor will conduct a thorough exam, checking one’s sense of balance, vision, hearing, coordination, and reflexes, along with having an imaging scan done to check for signs of brain damage. If a person has been diagnosed with a concussion, the doctor may ask him or her to stay in the hospital overnight for observation.
Furthermore, a cyclist who has been diagnosed with a concussion will need to take measures to ensure proper healing. As a concussion affects one’s sense of balance, this means that cycling out in nature would not be an option until one is able to cycle for long periods of time on an indoor bike without experiencing nausea, lack of balance, or dizziness. A person who has had a concussion will likely need help getting around town, as driving could prove difficult or even dangerous for someone who feels dizzy and fatigued. Furthermore, an individual would need to avoid potentially strenuous activities such as clubbing and going to concerts in order to allow time for the brain to heal. The process can take several months or nearly a year, depending on the nature of the concussion, how quickly one seeks medical help and an individual’s current state of health. Canadian cyclist Melanie Sandwith, for instance, notes that it took her ten months to go back to training after her concussion, but medical experts note that 80% of concussions resolve in a few weeks while an additional 10% heal in a few months.
There are tried-and-proven ways in which cyclists can prevent a sports concussion. These include regular bike maintenance, wearing a helmet, remaining alert and avoiding distractions while cycling. At the same time, a concussion can occur even if someone is taking proper safety precautions. Knowing the symptoms of a concussion and what should be done in the event of a head injury can help a cyclist avoid serious injury and receive the personalized care and treatment needed to fully recover from a concussion and go on to lead a happy, healthy life.