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Concussion In Badminton

At the end of November 2020 I took an accidental racket to the front of my head in training. It knocked me down to the floor but didn’t knock me out, I carried on training for 5-10 minutes but didn’t feel right – I was dizzy and completely disorientated! I then threw up multiple times (sorry if that’s unnecessary detail).

I thought nothing of it at first and thought I’d be in training the next day! Jenny drove me home and as advised by our physio I sat at home in the dark all day. I was then sick later on that evening and was made (quite literally) to go and get a CT scan to rule out anything more sinister.

Thankfully I got the all clear and the doctors along with my physio advised me that it usually takes 10 days to 3 weeks to recover from concussion. Despite some small relief, I was annoyed as I was due to be playing the European Championship Qualifiers the week later.

The ‘Return To Play Guidance’ for athlete’s having suffered concussion requires you to complete certain tests before you’re allowed back to training. This also requires your symptoms to have subsided, mine hadn’t! I was still in a daze, confused, anxious, sensitive to light and noise, and waking up with a headache every day!

CT Scan
Waiting for my CT Scan

A week after sitting inside in the dark, not able to look at a laptop or phone screen for more than 5 minutes I tried to go outside on a walk, but after 10 minutes I was out of breath and very dizzy! I still didn’t really understand that this was related to my concussion – I thought I’d just completely lost my fitness!

The week later I tried a light core circuit – again, it made me dizzy and intensified the headache I already had! I wasn’t supposed to try exercise until I had no symptoms but I was incredibly impatient by this point! Being an elite athlete used to training 5 hours a day this was difficult for me to comprehend. The more I got stressed with this and other things in life, the worse my symptoms got. I still remember going round Tesco for the first time 3 weeks later and I was so spaced out I had to leave after 5 minutes and go and wait in the car!

I saw a specialist on the 22nd of December because after 4 weeks I still wasn’t feeling any better and still unable to do basic bodyweight exercise without a negative reaction. They reassured me that this is very normal and gave me advice to gradually build up my exercise.

I was also really struggling to get out of bed every day. At the time I thought I was just being lazy but having spoken to other people that have been through this too they also had the same problem. But then I also couldn’t sleep at night – I thought this was just because I was overthinking and I wasn’t doing 5 hours of exercise a day like usual, this was probably partially true, but now I know the concussion wasn’t helping with this either!

Despite not filling my days with anything, I was still sleeping 11 hours every night and napping for an hour or two every day!! I felt useless, especially whilst Jenny was running around me rushed off her feet! 

Lastly, my memory – wow! I’d like to say usually I’m quite ‘with it’ but my short term memory was appalling, I was regularly mid conversation and would forget what I was about to say, or get distracted and think about something else.

There were times when this wasn’t such a bad thing though, such as when I ran the washing up bowl but then forgot to wash up! I did this 3 times! I also couldn’t remember having conversations with people or if Jenny had done a food shop – even an hour after she’d walked in with it! Despite this being very frustrating because I’d like to say I usually have a good memory, I could use my concussion as an excuse in these situations!

After discussing this ‘new me’ with a psychologist, she advised to put it down to ‘concussion Greg’ and that this wasn’t truly me. Whilst I hate the idea of speaking about myself in 3rd person, I enjoyed and still do enjoy using concussion Greg as a reason for forgetting to do things Jenny asks me to do (like the washing up!).

She has been great through it all! It was so hard to explain to people who didn’t fully understand concussion and what I was going through. I don’t blame them though – if I couldn’t understand it myself how could I expect others to?! Naturally the longer my concussion went on for, the more I tried to push through, especially when I felt like I was getting better and nearly there.

You might be thinking, how can a badminton racket do that sort of damage?!

I was too, and only after a very scientific explanation by the expert neurosurgeon I understood why it could cause such damage as opposed a punch in boxing or something equivalent! Essentially, it’s a small hard object traveling very fast through the air and striking a small surface area. There’s also no padding on a badminton racket and I didn’t have time to brace upon impact. 

 

 

To this day I’m still suffering, although I’m trying to listen to my symptoms and do believe I am continuing to slowly get better! In my day to day life now I am often able to live ‘normally’ and not limit things like screen time, noise and light too much.

Badminton is very different – As every expert I have spoken to has said, badminton is one of the worst things for concussion as you are constantly looking up into bright lights, jumping side to side and all whilst performing complex skills and reacting to unpredictable movements in each and every rally!

So, how much badminton have I played throughout this period?

Well after 6 weeks of doing literally nothing I started building up my training and was taking 8 paracetamol a day to mask some of my symptoms (note this was only recommended for a short period). February came round and I had completed my first week of full training before going to the European Team Championships. I still knew I wasn’t right and debated not going as it was probably too soon but I thought it would be a good test and playing for England is not something I can easily turn down!

Despite having not had the best preparation I played alright however throughout the game I knew I wasn’t right – mainly my blurred vision! Before I played, that extra adrenaline made me confused, I was walking round aimlessly. I forgot my match top to the hall (which I’ve never done in my life) and had to borrow Raj Ouseph’s!

Towards the end of the game I became dizzy. No headaches though, probably thanks to the paracetamol. It was afterwards that the headaches / migraine came and I sat in the changing rooms in the dark for an hour not able to watch the rest of the match.

After building up my training again the week after, I was feeling ‘ok’ again. I was still just training once per day and not always on court but this was good for me. I then had my eyes set on the All England in 2 weeks.

In this 2 week period I ramped up my training and was feeling good, only having some difficulty concentrating towards the end of a match. I felt like I had to make up for lost time and despite my physio and coaches telling me to take it easy I couldn’t help but push to get back into some sort of decent shape!

The Big Crash

I played the All England (see our vlogs on YouTube!) where we had Chen/Peck from Malaysia in the first round and everything was going well until the 4th point in where I dived for a shot and got up whilst seeing stars. It was a good dive but definitely not good for me and for the rest of the match!

But it was the All England. I wasn’t pulling out after 4 points when I’d worked so hard to get there! We got battered in the first set, watching the match back you can see me going for a simple block and just missing the shuttle completely! I felt awful.

I fought to get through it, slapping myself to try and get me to wake up. I managed to get to a decent level and we eventually lost 18 in the 3rd.

Upon reflection the dive didn’t help, but neither did the extra adrenaline that competition brings, as well as the extremely bright lights!

That evening I couldn’t get to sleep until 4am. I was a) analysing every point back in my head as to what I could have done different, and b) worried if I was ever going to get better!

The next day was horrible. I physically couldn’t get out of bed! There were matches I wanted to watch at 10am, and I physically couldn’t muster up the energy to get up in time.

I finally managed to get up around midday, have a shower and head to the hall. Everyone I saw said I looked awful and I felt it – the best way to describe it was that it was like being hungover. I felt like I’d had 10 beers the night before, but no, I’d just been playing badminton!

All England Greg
All England 2021 (Photo Credits: Alan Spink)

Ignorance

I was due to be commentating on some of the games that day starting at 2pm, I physically couldn’t. But because it’s something I wanted to do I said I would do it the next day, once again assuming that my concussion and symptoms were only temporary and wouldn’t last.

I listened to my physio (she didn’t give me much choice which is what I needed!) and I went back to the hotel and slept pretty much the rest of the day and night. Since 4am the day after competing I slept 25 of the next 32 hours!

If you know me you’ll know that if I commit to something, I won’t back out. Saying yes to too many things is also a downfall of mine, I’ll discuss this more later. So of course the next day I honoured my commitment and did a 3 hour stint of commentary. By now I was getting better at managing my time around doing activities that I knew might require concentration and screen time.

Despite doing literally nothing before it and nothing after it (apart from sleeping) I was just drained. I still wanted to pretend my symptoms weren’t there and train like normal, but luckily my physio had banned me from any hitting. It was so weird because in the past if I have achilles pain or a shoulder injury it’s like my body doesn’t want me to train and there’s something stopping me. Now my body was fine, but I couldn’t play due to my brain…?!

After lots of reflection with my physio, going over the data of tracking my load from previous weeks and also delving into my symptoms we concluded that I had pushed myself too much the weeks leading up to the All England in a desperate attempt to make up for the training time I had lost. I often ignored small symptoms and did too much, now I know this was stupid!

I also had some external stress which was not helping, and alongside the extra adrenaline that playing my first tournament in over 4 months brought, as well as the bright lights and need to play at maximum speed it was too much.

So yeah I still wasn’t right, and I was at the point where I would do anything to get better.

In my initial consultation with the specialist, they said that often anti-depressants can help symptoms of concussion. At the time I wasn’t interested, convinced that I would be better soon without the need of any drugs – especially drugs that I could end up becoming reliant on.

I was prepared to do anything to help my symptoms as I needed to get better. I had another appointment in Birmingham with more check ups and starting taking my first dose of medication, aimed at relaxing my brain.

Things got worse which is common when starting these drugs. In that time I also got an ear infection and couldn’t hear out of my left ear for 2 weeks. I didn’t think it was related but later realised and was likely to have been. This was the worst time of it all I think!

2 weeks later the drugs started to work and I was sleeping better and feeling a little more relaxed. This was helped by starting to practice guided meditation and mindfulness – I was skeptical on this at first but would now suggest to anyone to give it a go!

Despite the success of this medication, I was still having problems when exercising and after exercising. Because the paracetamol hadn’t worked in terms of desensitising headaches, I went through a period of trying some more drugs. The first I didn’t get on with, the second I did. Once I’d got through the first week I started to feel a lot better!

The Present Day

I am still taking both of these medications and it has taken me a long time, consulting with experts in the field to get to this stage. What I’ve learnt during this is that the brain is complicated and what might work for one person might not work for another person! 

I’ve recently been trying to reduce the dosage to slowly wean my way off them (to try and get back to how I was before the concussion, but also because they’re very expensive!) but at the moment my symptoms just come back when I do this.

I had to increase the dosage again before the English Nationals this weekend to stand a chance of playing and being able to compete as normal. For some reason I expected to be sharp and at the top of my game. I think subconsciously I was trying to convince myself of this!

The Saturday was good, managing to win comfortably and limit my time in the hall. Despite some anxiety about wearing a cap in a tournament, I was relaxed and didn’t have to think too much in the games – Jenny just carried me! I unfortunately still got blurred vision towards the end of both of my matches which was frustrating but I knew from my training this was still likely to happen.

Sunday morning we were on at 9am and for some reason my blurred vision came in the knock up! It got worse after a long rally early on. I tried to fight through and find a way to win but after the break at 11-9 in the 2nd set my headache came on as well as my dizziness – I almost fell over at one point!

I tried a few more points then decided to call it a day and retire. I couldn’t push through any more and knew that I didn’t want to push myself too hard to set me back! I’d learnt from the All England. I’m putting it down as one step too far for now and the extra adrenaline of trying to be the first person ever to win the Nationals in a cap was too much!

Concussion In Badminton
English Nationals 2021 (Photo Credits: Graham Shellswell)

Thankfully I haven’t suffered as badly as I did back in March in the proceeding days.

Whilst at the moment this is incredibly frustrating, I now have a lot better understanding of my symptoms and do know deep down they are slowly getting better and I just have to be grateful to be back competing.

A month ago I entered the nationals with little hope of playing and after 2 weeks of managing to train once a day with no symptoms I thought I’d give it a go! I’m definitely improving. (I’m telling myself that anyway!) I’ve very aware that there is still a lot of uncertainties around concusion and it’s impact on the brain, especially in later life and I would strongly urge anyone suffering from concusion to be cautious and rest properly. Your health is so important but for many (including myself) it’s so hard to do! 

Now I like to find positives in everything in life, here are a couple that I have gained from the last 9 months:

  1. The importance of rest – I’ll never underestimate the importance of listening my body again. 
  2. Not being a yes man – Going from someone who trains, strings, films videos and coaches from 7am to midnight and repeats that 6 days per week, to sitting in the dark not being able to do anything without getting a headache has led me to now realise this wasn’t sustainable and I should prioritise rest. This will unfortunately mean I have to say no to things from time to time and avoid being a yes man! 
  3. Learning not to plan – me (and Jenny) are big planners, we love to be organised and always have our weeks and months planned out. Concussion plus the Covid pandemic has taught me that just taking 1 day at a time isn’t always the worst thing in the world, especially in circumstances where things can change so quickly.
  4. Meeting other people – through this experience I have met some wonderful people who have suffered a lot more than I have because of concussion! I am so grateful that I have been able to learn from their experiences and realise that what I was experiences was indeed common with concussion! Not only this but I’ve learnt to deal with my setbacks better as a result.
  5. Thanks to Covid, I didn’t miss as many tournaments and other events as I would have done during ‘normal times’!
  6. Meditation / mindfulness is a very powerful tool that I will continue to use throughout my life!

Thank you and well done if you’ve made it to this point, writing this has really helped me reflect on the last 9 months! I really hope publishing this will help at least 1 person, but I actually hope it helps more than just 1 to understand the realities of concussion.

I’d also like to put an open invite for anyone who is ever struggling with concussion if they want to chat or ask me anything, then please send me a message on Instagram (@badminton.insight) or email (contact@badminton-insight.com).

Greg

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