By: Christopher D’Alessandro
Concussions and the long-term impact they have on athletes is becoming a part of our everyday discussion due to what we are seeing with many NFL players and other athletes. This concern is also becoming an issue for the parents of athletes in many youth sports. The statistics are alarming. Consider the following data being published in regard to the issues with concussions:
- An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports and recreation concussions are reported in the US each year.
- 50,000 people die from traumatic brain injuries every year.
- High school football accounts for 47% of all reported sports concussions with 33% of those happening during practice. After football, ice hockey and soccer pose the most significant head health risk.
- 5 to 10% of all athletes will experience a concussion.
- Concussions are sometimes not that obvious with less than 10% of those reported involved loss of consciousness.
- Football is the most common sport for concussions for males and soccer is the most for females.
- A pro football player will receive an estimated 900 to 1500 blows to the head during a season.
- The impact speed of a football player tackling a stationary player is 25 mph.
- The impact speed of a soccer ball headed by a player is 70 mph.
So what is a concussion? The key phrase in the definition is ‘trauma to the brain’ which makes them serious business. Concussions mostly happen from a blow to the head resulting in headaches and nausea to more long-term issues like difficulty with memory and concentration, being irritable, and having sleep disturbances. Concussions not only are caused by blows to the head but can also be caused by whiplash to a person’s body. Either way, the brain strikes the inside of the skull and thus does damage to the brain.
Of great concern is that research has shown that high school age athletes take a longer time to recover from concussions than college or professional age athletes. The issue is that human brains continue to develop through the age of 25. As a result, it is important to address youth concussions.
Schools are becoming more proactive in putting athletes through a comprehensive concussion protocol before allowing them back on the field. They appear to be taking the lead from the NFL which has become more aware of when concussions are experienced and are now limiting exposure to further activity until further testing is conducted. The NFL has recently announced that it has set aside $100 million in its concussion awareness and research program.
Not only is it important to take time before an athlete returns to the field, research shows that once someone receives a concussion, they are almost twice as likely to receive a second one.
The long-term effect of these concussions is being more closely studied especially when considering the issues evidenced in well-known athletes like Junior Seau, Mohammed Ali, Frank Gifford, and Jovan Belcher who had dealt with high levels of head hits during their careers before they each passed away. In addition, helmet to helmet hits and their impact are being more closely monitored in the NFL which is further exposing concussions. There were several hits to Cam Newton, one of the NFL’s stars, in a recent nationally televised game and a noted concussion went unreported for several weeks experienced by Nascar star Dale Earnhardt Jr. These big names and the NFL’s dedicated research dollars are bringing exposure to this issue.
But is this exposure enough? What else can be done? We need to continue to pursue more and better data which needs to be analyzed especially with young athletes. Additional focus needs to be placed on working with trainers on developing better sports techniques, improving equipment used in the sports, and reviewing sports rules and playing practices.
Despite the new awareness of concussions, the current season of the NFL opened with more helmet to helmet hits than ever. According to team injury reports, 306 players have suffered concussions over the past two seasons. The data shows that most players return from head injuries without missing a game. There really is no standard recovery time despite athletes being at the greatest risk of repeat injury in the first 10 days after a concussion. The NFL needs to get better at this to send a strong message down to youth sports.
Nascar, through one its stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., has some of the same issues as the NFL. Dale is a tough guy in a tough-guy sport where many of the greatest drivers had long histories of fighting through head injuries following collisions to get back into their cars to continue racing without going through any type of concussion protocol. Just like them, Earnhardt jumped right back in the car and ran several races after his hard accident. It wasn’t until after several races did he seek medical attention for issues he was having after his concussion. The obvious question arose as to why he wasn’t placed into a concussion program by Nascar.
There needs more to be done to get people to realize the issues of this serious issue especially those who are suiting their kids up to play contact youth sports. No longer is it enough to say that we want our kids involved in these sports in exchange for the socialization, competitive spirit, college and professional opportunities created, and fun without fully realizing the potential long-term impact of not properly managing the safety-related requirements of these sports.