Concussions throughout Canada are on the rise, specifically in women. Traditionally, we have always thought of concussions as simple sports-related injuries. You bump your head, and then the following week you get back on the ice. But this is not always the case. We need to change the way we dialogue and think about concussions.
Concussions can happen in a variety of ways; a simple slip on the sidewalk, a car accident, whiplash from a sudden stop, etc. Concussions are actually a type of traumatic brain injury caused when the head and brain move rapidly back and forth. The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce and/or twist around, creating chemical changes in the brain from stretching and damaging cells. Sounds serious right? That’s because it is.
Even though concussions are not usually life threatening, the effects of a concussion can be serious. Symptoms include headaches that don’t go away, slurred speech, weakness/numbness/decreased coordination, repeated nausea and vomiting, feeling slowed down, difficulty concentrating, increased confusion, memory loss, misalignment of the eyes, etc. One of the common misconceptions is that a concussion always results in a loss of consciousness, but that is not true.
Because the brain is so complex, every injury is different. For some, a concussion can put them off work for a few days, for others, it may take months or years for a full return to health. Recovery can also be much slower in older persons, and persons with concussions in the past may find it takes longer to recovery from their injury.
If an employee reports a concussion injury, encourage them to reach out to a Concussion Management Specialist in addition to their physician. Work on a slow return to work program that accommodates the concussion symptoms. Sitting still doing nothing all day won’t be helpful for recovery, so getting them back to work slowly and safely will help in their success. Modified work should limit working hours, limit screen time, provide additional rest breaks, and provide them with a space for healing (reduced noise, ability to work in lower light, etc.). If you can’t accommodate in their normal position for safety reasons, think if there are other tasks that they could achieve.
Because concussions are complex, as an employer, manager or supervisor, your role is to remove the expectations you might already have about concussion recovery. Play your role in reducing the risk of concussion injuries by having a good safety program in place that includes slips, trips and falls and a focus on early and safe return to work. At the end of the day, our goal should always be on prevention. Encourage employees to report hazards and use their common sense (especially in the winter where surfaces are slippery).