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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Concussions - Concussions in Football

By October 27, 2010

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If your kids play football, you should be well aware by now that they are at risk for concussions.

Fortunately, coaches and players are becoming better aware of concussion symptoms that can occur after big hits, which will hopefully lessen the risk of permanent brain damage that can happen if kids get a second concussion before they have recovered from a first one.

But what if it isn't just big hits and concussions that you have to worry about? There has been some discussion and concern lately that multiple sub-concussive blows to the head, which are not as forceful as the ones that can cause a concussion, can also cause symptoms and damage in the brain. In fact, this idea was in the news recently after Owen Thomas, a college football player, committed suicide and was found to have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in his brain when an autopsy was done.

While chronic traumatic encephalopathy is sometimes found in older football players who have had multiple concussions, it was a surprise for a younger player who had never had a concussion to have this type of brain damage. It was thought that it could have been caused by multiple, sub-concussive blows to his head over all of his years of playing football.

A new study about concussions that is going to be published in the Journal of Neurotrauma and which is highlighted in an upcoming Sports Illustrated article by David Epstein, seems to confirm the risk of getting a large number of mild hits to the front of the head. High school football players in this study had accelerometers placed in their helmets to measure the force of hits they took, had their brains scanned with functional MRIs, and had regular tests of their memory and concentration.

Surprisingly, they found that many of the football players who had never had a concussion and had no obvious symptoms, still had declines when they took visual memory tests and had changes on their functional MRIs. Fortunately, the declines of the visual memory tests weren't permanent and had disappeared after they had been off from football for nine months.

In addition to taking the steps to decrease the number of concussions, like the NFL cracking down on illegal hits, coaches, players, and parents might take steps to decrease the number of hits to the head kids take each week. This might include one fewer day of full-contact practice and avoiding the celebratory head-butts that seem to be popular.

If these milder, repetitive hits to the head can cause damage at an early age in some people, even if everyone takes steps to decrease these hits, it makes one wonder if the drive to have kids play tackle football at younger ages is a good idea. Instead of rushing into tackle football when kids are in 1st or 2nd grade, it might make more sense to play flag football for at least a few more years, like in the NFL youth flag football league.

Comments
October 27, 2010 at 11:17 pm
(1) David Lines says:

I would remove the helmets which give a false sense of security. Increase the penalty for neck and head high tackles. Rugby (both league and union) players usually do not wear head protection and when they do they are padding not helmets and do not suffer many serious head injuries but the penalty for a head (or neck) high tackle are severe.

October 29, 2010 at 1:57 am
(2) Ted says:

No concussions in rugby, are you kidding?!! Concussions – er, brain injuries, are rampant in rugby players. Take some brain scans of most contact/collision sport athletes and you’re going to find a significant percentage with some brain damage. Monitoring the impact of head injuries is a good start to solving this serious issue.

Great article in SI showing that players having contact in football created damage to the brain, as seen in before and after functional MRIs and in neurocognitive testing. The brain damage in high school athletes improved but took nine months.

Smarter helmets that record and monitor each player’s impacts will some day be the norm. Once a players has a certain level or amount of hits to the brain, he’s out of the game. A much better system than asking a hyped-up athlete if he’s okay to play. People will bitch and moan but in the end innovation will win out. And brains will be saved.

November 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm
(3) MLB Baseball Tickets says:

Great article in SI showing that players having contact in football created damage to the brain, as seen in before and after functional MRIs and in neurocognitive testing. The brain damage in high school athletes improved but took nine months.

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