In recent years, articles about the long-term effects of concussions on our brains have appeared regularly in the news. We read about suicides and homelessness of young men who played football in college, and about severe brain-related illnesses such as ALS occurring in former professional players.
In August 2013, over 4,500 former football players reached a $765 million settlement agreement from the NFL that would fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research.
As of February 2015, the specifics of how this action would be paid out was still in the courts.
Although the NFL does not admit to any wrongdoing, this action highlights the fact that long-term effects of concussions on the brains of those who play contact sports cannot be ignored.
What happens during a concussion?
Our brains are cushioned by a layer of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and by our skulls, which act like shields of armor.
However, when the body or the skull receives a very forceful impact, from being tackled playing football or from a car accident, for instance, the brain bangs around against the inside of the skull causing bruising, bleeding and swelling.
This increased pressure and force inside the brain can result in a concussion and possibly loss of consciousness as well.
Symptoms of concussion
Concussions can cause symptoms of depression, nausea, insomnia, poor memory, dizziness, confusion, sensitivity to light and noise, and temporary loss of consciousness. These symptoms may not show up immediately, and can last for hours to months, reported the Huffington Post.
Statistics about the incidence of concussions vary by source:
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussive injuries occur annually in the USA,” according to Medscape.
“Thirty per cent of all concussions in individuals between 5 and 19 years of age are sports-related and result in a significant number of emergency room visits,” Medscape also reported.
“Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents,” according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
However, all sources agree that the rates are likely higher than any of these statistics show, as some injuries are not reported due to the concern that the young person will not be able to continue playing.
The person may also have been treated in a doctor’s office, not an emergency room, or they were self- treated, making the actual numbers even higher than statistics indicate.
Preventing sports-related concussions is not as easy as just encouraging people to be more careful. There needs to be a change in the way players, their parents, coaches, other sports officials and fans behave in response to contacts and collisions that occur in a sport setting.
Coaches, parents and managers must be role models, reinforcing the stance that playing with fair rules is the expectation in contact sports.
It is felt that limiting the number of contact practices will reduce exposures and in turn the number of concussions. This concept is currently being tested in college sport settings.
Protective equipment has not shown to be an effective concussion reduction path.
Instead, players must be taught techniques where they are not using their heads and helmets as battering rams in contact sport play. Any behavior that increases a concussion risk should be eliminated.
Fortunately, sports organization such as the NFL and Pop Warner have begun revising their sports rules in an attempt to reduce concussion injuries.
The Devastating Health Impact Of Concussion May Start Earlier Than We Thought. Huffington Post. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
NFL reaches agreement on $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players to end concussion-related lawsuits. Daily News. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(1):15-26. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
Patient Information: Sports-Related Head Injury. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith