Summer is ending and fall is quickly approaching. That means children have returned to school and to their sports activities. It also means the nation is gearing up for one of its favorite pastimes – football. But recent studies regarding traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) paint a different picture of football and other contact or impact sports – one that should give us pause, especially parents and other caregivers of children and youth.
This summer the Journal of the American Medical Association released findings from a study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its prevalence among American football players. One of the key findings revealed that 99 percent – 110 out of 111 – former NFL players who donated their brains for research were diagnosed with CTE. The study examined samples from a total of 202 deceased football players across all levels of play. Researchers found that overall 87 percent, or 177 players, exhibited signs of CTE.
Although more research is needed to demonstrate the full extent of the problem, this study confirms a problem exists with football and the problem is more than just anecdotal.
The Mayo Clinic explains that CTE is a degenerative brain condition, which is likely caused by repeated head traumas or TBIs, and currently has no cure. Diagnosis can only be made by conducting an autopsy and studying sections of the brain. Symptoms of CTE are thought to include physical problems as well as difficulties with thinking, emotions and other behaviors such as aggression, memory loss, depression, and an increased risk of suicide, notes Sports Illustrated.
The most common TBI is a concussion, which is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can alter how the person’s brain normally works. Earlier this year, as Beasley Allen noted, NFL data for 2016 recorded 244 concussions that occurred in practices and games during preseason and regular season. Although the number is down from the five-year high in 2015, even NFL insiders admit more steps can be taken to better protect players.
Additional new research confirms the need for more proactive measures and ones that should be taken early in an athlete’s life. The Radiological Society of North America measured head impact data for 25 male football players between the ages of 8 and 13. After analyzing the data, researchers warn that players with repeated head impact, even if the impact doesn’t result in a concussion, exhibited changes to their brains comparable to people who suffer TBIs.
Science Daily reports that researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital discovered similar results in a study that compared 65 varsity athletes – both male and female – involved in sports with varying levels of physical contact. The researchers “found progressive differences between the brains of athletes in non-contact, contact and collision sports.” Researchers also noticed that athletes involved in sports with higher levels of contact “showed signs of reduced communication between brain areas and decreased activity, particularly within areas involved in vision and motor function” compared to other athletes in the study.
These findings are important for the approximately 30 million children and adolescents Stanford’s Children’s Health estimates are involved in football and other contact sports each year in the U.S. Although information is evolving, parents and caregivers should heed the latest scientific findings regarding TBIs and the implications for children’s developing brains when they are exposed to repetitive head impacts, especially potentially long-term effects. It is also critical to recognize that, while important, protective equipment, such as helmets, is designed to reduce the risk of damage – not completely prevent injury.
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For more information on how sports are linked to traumatic brain injury visit http://www.helmetinjuries.com/. Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, handles cases involving traumatic brain injuries. You can contact him at 800-898-2034 or Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
Journal of the American Medical Association
Radiological Society of North America
Stanford’s Children’s Health