Synchronized Swimming Can Lead to Concussions
While watching sports during the Olympics, it can be easy to think athletes performing them are not risking their health, especially for synchronized swimming, now known as artistic swimming. As beautiful as the routines can be, they are also dangerous and can lead to concussions. Up to eight athletes swim together in a routine, coordinating with music and each other. Above the water it can seem impossible that people doing these routines are risking their health, but underneath the water you can see constant activity that can lead to being kicked or landed on during a routine.
People in artistic swimming have known there is a problem with concussions, but the extent of the problem was not known. A student researcher that was once in the sport decided to study the risk of concussions and found that one in four of 430 athletes competing in artistic swimming at some point has had at least one concussion. This does not include people who were undiagnosed. When adjusting for the 15 percent of people who were undiagnosed but had one, the number is more likely 40 percent.
A survey was sent to both current and former artistic swimming competitors at all levels during the spring of 2019. They were asked what years they competed, their ages, what age they sustained a concussion, and if they received treatment.
The artistic swimming governing body, U.S.A. Artistic Swimming, has been addressing concussions in the sport. It created a partnership with Hammer Head Swim Caps, which creates bathing caps with a honeycomb layer that can provide some protection if an arm or foot strikes the head or someone runs into a pool wall. When practicing a particularly dangerous throw, the USA athletes wore the caps to provide extra protection.
Many sports organizations have had to confront head injuries including the NFL, NHL, and FIFA. They have had to create protocols for treating and preventing concussions, but since artistic swimming has not had public pressure to address concussions, it has been able to get by without many studies or regulations. Concussions have been dangerously underreported because athletes want to keep competing, don’t want to let teammates down, or simply did not recognize symptoms. According to some research, around 50 percent of concussions go unreported.
Some Olympians remember multiple teammates not being able to compete because they were concussed. After a kick to the head one athlete had to leave the competition while another athlete experienced a knee to the head and kept going after a month. She later believed it was a mistake because only resting a month before competing again did not help her heal and healing possibly took much longer.
Over the past 20 years, artistic swimming has required faster and more closely knit performances because judgement is based on difficulty and the technical aspects of a performance. U.S.A Swimming started to seriously start addressing concussions two years ago, even while requiring faster and closer routines. It now works with TeachAids, which helps teach coaches how to better spot concussions.
Heavy blows to the head are always worrisome, but even multiple small hits to the head are problematic. The multiple small hits can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which can be seen in football players. Structural changes to the brain can occur leading to memory issues and behavioral changes.
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