Concussions: Risk, Recovery, and Getting Back on the Bike
A recent crash at Round #3 of the Enduro World Series created a valuable learning experience for me. I crashed during the first stage of the day. It wasn’t the biggest crash I’ve had, but it was a blunt stop, no rolling or tumbling. A blunt stop on my face. In the heat of the moment, I jumped straight back up, grabbed my bike, and raced to the finish line.
After the first stage was done, the transition to the second stage was about an hour long, at about 80% effort. All I can remember thinking was, damn my body hurts. My wrist was so sore, something must have hit me in the rib, and I’d for sure added another bruise to my already suffering thigh. When I reached to the top of the climb, I felt fine, but I had no idea I had just broken my helmet in the crash. I had no symptoms to suggest that my brain was troubled.
Once the race was finished and the stresses of the race day were behind me, this feeling started growing inside that maybe I was not ok. My head hurt. There is some degree of stubbornness, not knowing the extent of how I felt at the time, and the high adrenaline that was holding it all together. I sought medical attention and was diagnosed with a concussion.
Here are a few tips based on my experience with concussions:
1. Get a baseline test now. My first documented concussion was in August of 2019. I did not have a baseline test prior to this trauma, so it was a bit of a guessing game with the doctor to figure out if I was failing the tests due to the concussion, or if I just didn’t have that skillset prior to the injury. Trying to set out parameters for recovery treatment was a bit tricky.
2. Listen to people around you who care and take time to assess your injury. When you’ve had a big crash and you’re hyped on adrenaline, you may not fully understand the extent of your injuries. After a crash on your bike, several body parts may hurt and you might find yourself focusing on what’s causing the most pain and not acknowledging the trauma you sustained to your head. Take time to do a full-body assessment after a fall and look to the people around you for help assessing your condition. If your friends, family, coaches, and/or teammates are suggesting you get your head checked out, listen to them because they have your best interests in mind.
3. Check your helmet for damage. After any crash on your bike, always check your helmet for damage. If your helmet is cracked or broken, seek medical attention because you may have suffered a concussion. NEVER ride or race with a broken helmet. If you know you’ve had a significant impact to your head, you should get a new helmet even if it is not obviously broken, as the integrity of the helmet may have been compromised. Keep in mind, you can have a concussion even if your helmet is not broken.
4. Just like any other bone or muscle injury, a concussion needs to be treated with the same respect. One of the worst parts about having a concussion is you don’t look injured. There are no bandages or limping. You just look normal. Because of this, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself to return to your sport too early. However, if you don’t give it the time to heal, you risk making the injury so much worse. I have seen many instances where a person who is dealing with a concussion, who just cannot wait to get back out riding because they are bored or just unable to sit around doing nothing. They try and play down the seriousness of the situation, ‘Oh, it not that bad, I’ll just ride slow and be extra safe’, but it’s during these times when a second crash can happen, or the initial damage doesn't heal. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that consecutive concussions are a recipe for disaster, potentially increasing the side effects of the injury and delaying recovery, which in some cases can be years.
5. Listen to your body. Everyone’s brain and trauma are unique. That means, your symptoms and recovery are also unique to you. Don’t put a time limit on your recovery and pay close attention to how you are feeling. Find a medical health professional that listens to your individual needs and does not implement a one-size-fits-all approach to your brain health.
6. Be honest with yourself and put your health first no matter the situation! Bikes are amazing and I cannot imagine a life without them. But as we all know, there is a fine line between risk and reward. And your head isn't worth the risk for the payout or reward.