College-Football Early-College-Football-T See All Results For This Question Update: Head Injuries Revisited

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Update: Head Injuries Revisited

Athletes suffer from head injuries, which result more often than previously thought. We are learning more about issues and important implications. Each year more than 300,000 athletes in the US sustain some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). 60,000 of these injuries involved high school athletes. Effects vary widely but can be both emotional and intellectual. Short-term symptoms and problems with TBI are more severe and may not appear until years later. The types of problems that develop depend on which part of the brain is affected, the severity of the trauma, the number of repeated blows to the head, the individual’s predisposition, and the personality traits of the injured person.

The more blows to the head, even smaller ones, the greater the risk of mental retardation. Hundreds of times a week during practice and game experience, a football player experiences major head trauma. Finding alternatives to protective equipment in contact sports and teaching basic sports techniques that can reduce head injuries are paramount to reducing the number of injuries and serious consequences.

A 2000 study surveyed 1,090 former NFL players and found that more than 60 percent had at least one concussion during their career, and 26 percent had three or more. Surveys have found that those who have suffered concussions have not had problems with memory, concentration, speech impediments, headaches and other neurological problems. Given that these professional athletes spend many years getting into the ranks as amateurs, the frequency of head injuries is underreported. Head injuries are a problem for many non-contact sports.

As we examine this challenge more closely, other common problems are being discovered. Depression, insomnia, attention deficits, personality changes occur with equal frequency in high school athletes. Chronic problems can take eight years or more to develop or worsen.

Immediate symptoms requiring withdrawal from sports activity include amnesia, poor balance, headache, dizziness, or other neurological deficits on examination, no matter how quickly they subside. It is generally accepted that concussion symptoms may reappear hours or days after the injury, indicating that the athlete has not recovered from the initial trauma. This requires strict guidelines that conservatively allow adequate time for recovery. The question remains, how much time is enough? A health care provider should be involved in the evaluation and diagnosis of these head injuries to ensure the best outcome. One episode of head injury also makes the athlete more vulnerable to serious consequences for the next episode, which is inevitable in many contact sports.

Professional and collegiate sports officials are changing their recommendations regarding contact sports. Minimizing multiple head injuries by implementing non-contact practices. Research has put the number of blows to the head to an individual player in the thousands during a college football season. Many of these are comparable to driving a car into a concrete wall at 40 miles per hour. Teaching good techniques and providing good equipment to reduce head-on contact can reduce negative outcomes. Football helmet manufacturing and testing is not strictly regulated. New helmet technology and better monitoring of equipment after repeated impacts can reduce head impacts.

It should come as no surprise that repeated head trauma can lead to serious brain injury consequences. We can do more to preserve and protect athletes of all ages. Trauma is a complex problem that requires a thorough initial assessment. Seek medical attention even if the head injury seems mild and there is no loss of consciousness. Symptom severity and early imaging studies can identify serious problems early and provide a promising basis for ongoing treatment.

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