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Concussion Awareness in Contact Sports, Specifically in American Football

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Contact sports are one of the many things that defines America. Many students throughout America start playing contact sports at very young ages. With the playing of these contact sports, there is a high risk for concussion. Concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries that can lead to brain injuries of a higher severity and in some cases death or lifelong disabilities. Through many forms of research and studies, the effects of contact sports up to the professional level are examined as to how they are extremely dangerous and need more awareness towards the safety of the players.

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A concussion is a violent agitation or shaking of the brain. The most severe level of disturbance would result in temporary unconsciousness from a major blow to the head. With loss of consciousness, a concussion is then considered a traumatic brain injury and if severe enough, the injury could result in shearing to nerve fibers and neurons. In order to identify a concussion, there are many signs and symptoms to look for including but not limited to headache, motor dysfunction, sensory abilities distorted, hypersensitivity, and cognitive impairment. With all those signs and symptoms, there is one more that is a large determining factor of a concussion which would be amnesia. Amnesia is classified into two categories when linked with a concussion which are retrograde and anterograde. Those who experience these have difficulty forming new memories or loss of ability to recall past information and memories.

Rates of concussion vary through many ages and gender. Children and adolescents make up roughly 70% of sports-related concussions (“Concussion and Sports”). On the gender aspect of the statistics, the cause of the traumatic brain injuries are different. For males, the main three incidents happen in bicycling, football, and basketball while for females the main three are bicycling, playground activities, and horseback riding. Females are more prone to concussions than males. Traumatic brain injuries usually end in a visit to the emergency room. Of all age groups that visit the emergency department, children have the highest rate of having a traumatic brain injury. According to “Concussions and Sports”, athletics are the most common way to acquire a concussion or traumatic brain injury. To many, getting a concussion doesn’t matter other than the fact it makes the person unable to participate. What most athletes don’t know is the risk they take when trying to participate before their symptoms are fully cleared. Second-impact syndrome, or SIS, occurs when an individual suffers from a second concussion following a concussion where symptoms were not fully cleared causing the brain to rapidly swell and can lead to many catastrophic events which may include death. SIS causes vascular congestion and increases pressure in the brain, which is often very difficult to contain. 69% of athletes have played with symptoms of a possible concussion and 40% of athletes with a concussion never informed their coaches making their risk for second impact syndrome increase (“Concussions and Sports”).

As a young boy, being a football player is a main goal for many during the childhood years. With all the fun and amusement comes the downfall though. According to “Sports Related Head Injury”, football leaves a very high risk for “catastrophic” injuries including those of the brain and spinal cord. Of the many football-related injuries that did happen, around 67% of those were associated with the defensive end of the team with tackling and blocking (“Sports Related Head Injury”). In the article, “Sports Related Head Injury”, the authors state that 34.6% of permanent cervical cord injuries happen to the defensive backs.

A modern example of concussive hits becoming fatal is the case with the National Football League and numerous athletes involved in that association. Head trauma in contact sports happens anywhere from little league to the professional level. Through many studies of football players in the professional level it was discovered that the repetitive impact to the heads of these players was causing an illness that the NFL was pushing aside. The affected players of this started going practically insane but the NFL covered it up to be pre-Alzheimer’s at young ages. One individual, Dr. Bennet Omalu, took this circumstance into his own hands against the validation of many to further investigate the repetition of fatalities in the NFL. After research, Dr. Omalu discovered a new brain disease which he came to name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain which is found in the brains of repetitive brain injuries, most commonly athletes. This disease could be caused by symptomatic and asymptomatic subconcussive hits. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy triggers degenerative changes in the brain. These changes resemble Alzheimer’s with the symptoms it possesses like memory loss, trouble understanding, and confusion. As a result from these changes, large amounts of players began to suffer and many of the athletes began to commit suicide by shooting themselves in the chest leaving their brains for research purposes. Through the research of Dr. Omalu many NFL guidelines have been slightly changed but were only changed enough to not change any aspect of the game of football. With the minor changes, the safety of the NFL has not changed enough to fully ensure the athletes are safe.

There have been many efforts to try and reduce the intensity of contact in sports and increase safety in sports of all levels. The creation of helmets was to reduce impact and increase safety when it has actually created higher levels of mortality and morbidity. When a player has suffered from a major impact and there are concussive symptoms present, an athletic trainer has the job of evaluating the player to find the intensity and further choices to be made of the outcome of the patient’s recovery. There are many new forms of concussion testing being evolved including various types of online testing.

As an athlete, specifically football players, you use your helmet and head as your weapon in the game for mass impact. Many athletes think that wearing a helmet prevents injuries but don’t understand that an contact that happens directly to a helmet is still a head to head hit. A helmet does not make players invincible as they think and repeated forceful blows to the head will almost always lead to head trauma.  

Works cited

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/index.html
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2022). Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Information-Page
  3. Giza, C. C., Kutcher, J. S., Ashwal, S., Barth, J., Getchius, T. S., Gioia, G. A., ... & Zafonte, R. (2013). Summary of evidence-based guideline update: Evaluation and management of concussion in sports: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 80(24), 2250-2257.
  4. McCrory, P., Meeuwisse, W., Dvorak, J., Aubry, M., Bailes, J., Broglio, S., ... & Cantu, R. C. (2017). Consensus statement on concussion in sport-the 5th international conference on concussion in sport held in Berlin, October 2016. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(11), 838-847.
  5. Cantu, R. C., & Hyman, M. (2012). Concussions and Our Kids: America's Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  6. McKee, A. C., Cantu, R. C., Nowinski, C. J., Hedley-Whyte, E. T., Gavett, B. E., Budson, A. E., ... & Stern, R. A. (2009). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: progressive tauopathy after repetitive head injury. Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology, 68(7), 709-735.
  7. Omalu, B. (2018). Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports. Zondervan.
  8. Baugh, C. M., Stamm, J. M., Riley, D. O., Gavett, B. E., Shenton, M. E., Lin, A., ... & Stern, R. A. (2012). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy: neurodegeneration following repetitive concussive and subconcussive brain trauma. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 6(2), 244-254.
  9. Daneshvar, D. H., Riley, D. O., Nowinski, C. J., McKee, A. C., & Stern, R. A. (2011). The epidemiology of sport-related concussion. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 30(1), 1-17.
  10. Rowson, S., & Duma, S. M. (2011). Brain injury prediction: assessing the combined probability of concussion using linear and rotational head acceleration. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 39(8), 2130-2140.

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