Yet no two concussions are alike. “There is tremendous variability in recovery from concussions,” Dr. Collins said, “You can certainly see people get better within a week and in the adult population that happens more frequently than in the child population. However, athletes may take longer than a week, athletes may take longer than two weeks, and many athletes may take longer than that.”
Jayson Stark wroteabout Morneau’s eight month road to recovery after his concussion. In Stark’s article Morneau’s comments fall in line with what Dr. Collins said.
“I’m a very impatient person myself. But one thing I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, is that these things are on their own timetable. It’s out of your hands.”
“Your mind is just slowed down,” Morneau said. “This isn’t the best analogy, but if you’re going 65 miles an hour down the road and you look out your side window, everything looks like it’s just going by so fast that you can’t really focus on it. Then you look out the front window and you see everything clear.”
What’s interesting about the quotes from Morneau is Mike Matheny, who played in the majors for 13 years, said very similar things about his concussion. Matheny was ultimately forced into an early retirement from baseball due to post-concussion symptoms. I interviewed Matheny last year. Here’s some of what he said about the effects he felt.
“The first nine months were really scary. It took almost 18 months until I felt like I could do things that I was doing right before I was hurt. That was a pretty scary time and very eye opening.”
“My problems were always with the cognitive stuff, not being able to put things together or even being able to speak right at times. It was bizarre how my concussions went. The headaches and that sort of stuff were there, but they weren’t any big deal to me. I could just tell my mind wasn’t working right.”
The impact of his concussions on his family was severe. “My kids are all very athletic, and always had some sport that they were playing. We enjoy the outdoors and our family would spend most of our time together outside playing. Our favorite family game is without a doubt, whiffle ball. While I was recovering from the concussions, I was not able to do much of anything. I was not able to get my heart rate up, so I couldn’t play any kind of games with the kids.”
A seven-day DL wouldn’t have helped Matheny have a longer career in MLB, but Dr. Collins believes having the flexibility of a seven-day window will provide the needed groundwork for making the right decisions.
“It adds to the careful nature you have to have with this injury,” he said. “It’s such a fluid process. You have to be very careful how you access this and how you measure it and making sure the athlete is not pushing through symptoms to exertion.”
Although it has been a painful road, ballplayers like Morneau and Matheny have helped others understand the severity of concussions. Matheny never wanted to be a poster child for a career ending injury but he believes his injury made ballplayers more aware.
“I think guys are more aware. Before, if they told me I had a concussion they might as well have told me I had a bad haircut, it didn’t really matter. It meant absolutely nothing to me. As soon as they told me I had a concussion I knew I was going to go back out there the next day. And if there was a play at the plate I was going to get run over again. It had no meaning to it.
“I think now guys are getting concerned. You see concussions now with umpires, outfielders and obviously catchers. It’s in other sports as well. It’s more prevalent even than what’s being noticed, especially in sports like football. Fortunately, baseball contracts allow you to try and take care of your body without having to make yourself do something you shouldn’t be doing.”
The athletic trainers are usually the first to interact with ballplayers in the event of a suspected injury. Prior to the new seven-day DL MLB was already providing training relating to concussions for the trainers and team doctors.
“The athletic trainers in MLB are some of the most up to speed professionals there are,” Dr. Collins said. “They do a great job. Now with this seven-day DL it just proves again that MLB is in step with the flexibility that is needed with this injury.”
The topic of concussions in athletes will not go away until enough safety measures are in place across all professional sports and it should be a focus until those safety measures have trickled down to our future athletes — the children in youth sports programs across the country. While the seven-day DL is not the complete answer, it’s a solution that sets a new standard for all professional sports.
“I’ve always felt that Major League Baseball has been out in front of this issue,” Dr. Collins said. “This just proves that to me even further.”