Part One: Watch Out for Injuries that Could Lay You Low

Be careful when you get your bell rung because some injuries can prove more dangerous than you realize.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

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Whether suffered at work or earned at the gym, injuries and their resulting aches and pains are a potential obstacle in every man’s daily life. The older he gets, the more mileage he covers, the more frequent those obstacles become.

But, which injuries are the price for an active lifestyle, and which can wage serious damage to the body? Put more bluntly — which bumps and bruises should a man slap an icepack on before going about his day, and which could quite literally kill him?

Doctors: “Play It Safe”

When MDs from across the U.S. – from the sets of daytime TV shows to the PGA Tour, from the Mayo Clinic to Johns Hopkins – were faced with that very question, most ducked out with the safe and predictable response: “A man should tell his doctor about any injury he suffers.”

That’s sound advice, but it’s also safe “doctor speak” that tries to ignore the fact that most guys often won’t turn to a GP with a report on a sprained ankle, let alone a bang to the head. They’re too busy, too proud or too scared. The trick for any male is balancing the hypochondriac against the mountain man. You don’t want to assume you’re dying with every random pang, but you can’t always tough it out at the of risk missing a life threatening ringing of your bell.

To offer a guide to when that dent your bodywork suffered might kill your engine permanently, we gathered a couple of MDs together, started at the head and worked south.

The Head

With so many ongoing stories of concussion syndrome coming out of the NFL, the need to look after the head demands a deliberate pun like “no brainer.” But, according to Dr. Adam King, Internal Medicine specialist, any shot to the head from a punch or crash — or sudden shaking of the skull from an accident — can kill you.

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“If we’re talking about headaches, we’re concerned with the ‘worst headache of your life.’ If it’s a headache that feels new or out of the ordinary — or won’t go away — that could be a sign of anything from a subdural hematoma or subarachnoid hemorrhage (both instances of blood gathering around the brain).”

The sinister aspect of brain injuries is they can kill slowly. A man might walk away from an impact to the head, leave it untreated and end up dead a day layer. Consider the tragic fate of Liam Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson. She hit her head during a ski accident, but walked away with a headache and (without realizing it) bleeding in the brain. By the time that ache intensified enough for Richardson to seek help, it was too late.Brain injuries can also lead to a deadly aneurism (a ruptured blood vessel deeper in the brain) or a stroke. Fortunately, King stressed that a CT Scan with a neurological exam will catch such threats before you’re DOA.

Sadly, repeated concussion might kill in another way as the resulting severe depression can lead to men taking their own lives. Even the briefest glimpse at the NFL veteran ranks — including suicide victims Dave Duerson and Junior Seau – will prove that.

The Neck

If you watch MMA, you’ve probably seen one opponent choke out another by locking an arm around the throat and cutting off blood flow to the brain. The key vessel in that move is the massive Carotid Artery in the neck.

Any cut or puncture wound to the Carotid will result in massive, sudden, spurting blood loss that could leave you dead in minutes. Too severe an injury, and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done besides order flowers.

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The Heart

In the early days of pro wrestling, there was a “devastating” finishing move called The Heart Punch. The in-ring villain would wind up and smash his mighty, well-aimed fist directly into the chest of his opponent, crippling him for the pin. Of course, pro wrestling is all a show, but the idea of damaging or stopping the heart with a severe impact is not.

The heart is a muscle, and even though it sits tucked away deep behind a sternum and rib cage, a severe impact to the chest can bruise and damage that muscle in different, but equally lethal ways.

Dr. Curt Hafer, Medical Director for Stanford Primary Care and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, says the symptoms of a heart injury are unmistakable.

“The heart floats in a sack called the Pericardium,” Hafer says. “If the sack fills with blood, the space is compressed and the heart can’t beat normally. The victim will experience heart failure. He’ll feel short of breath and weak — with an accelerated heart beat. With such an injury, the Pericardium has to be drained with a needle.” The Lungs That same impact that can shut down your heart won’t do your lungs any favors either. Whether it’s falling off a bike, tumbling from a snowboard or suffering a rough tackle on the football or rugby fields can cause a lung to collapse.

“It’s more rare, but it’s possible for a fit, athletic man to have a lung deflate due to over exertion or a Pneumothorax (a build up of air outside the lung that forces it to collapse),” King added. “In such cases, the victim has to get to a hospital and literally have that lung re-inflated .”

We’ll leave your body alone there for a while. Check back tomorrow for Part Two as we work south of the border, so to speak.