What Happens When a Dancer is Concussed?

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe. - Michio Kaku

            My last article discussed concussions in dancers, and noted that although they are more common in other forms of physical activity like football, soccer and lacrosse, they still occur in dance. While concussions are more likely to be the result of a fall or being dropped during a lift, it is also worth noting that a dancer in a recent study reported developing concussion symptoms after “repeatedly whipping her head and neck in a choreographed movement.”
         Dancers who are concussed may report the following symptoms: headache, nausea, blurred vision, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, feeling mentally foggy & concentration and memory problems.

         Although many people are now aware of the external symptoms of a concussion, few people are aware of what is actually happening inside the body.

         When a concussion occurs, the neuronal membranes, which are the outer layers that surround nerve cells, are damaged. As a result of this damage, potassium and an amino acid called glutamate leak out into the space between the cells. The body senses that there is a decrease in the amount of these substances in the nerve cells and sends more potassium into the cells to solve this problem. Since the potassium continues to leak out of the damaged cells, the body works harder to fix the issue and an imbalance is created.

         Because the body is doing all this extra work, it grows tired and an energy debt is created. An energy debt means that the body is working harder than normal and depleting all of its energy stores. This energy debt explains why a concussed individual craves carbohydrates; carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source for energy.

         It is for these reasons that rest is often prescribed for concussed athletes. In moderate to severe cases, concussed individuals may have to sit in dark rooms to rest the brain and limit the amount of input to which the brain must respond.

         Up until now, complete rest has been prescribed, followed by a gradual return to physical activity. Our next post will be a guest post written by a colleague of mine who has been conducting research on concussed individuals and will discuss the role that moderate aerobic exercise can play in the recovery process.