Concerns about the future of sports, the risks involved and actions to take, as explained by Dr. David R. Bloom
Recent press is largely focused on football and repetitive brain trauma found in professional players. You may have watched the controversy played out in Will Smith’s new movie “Concussion.” As a physician who has a sub-specialty in sports medicine, I love football. Every season though, I hold my breath as many years ago I witnessed a high school football player’s death due to Second Impact Syndrome. This tragic complication occurs when an athlete hasn’t properly healed from a previous concussion and has a second head trauma.
Injuring your brain is scary. The truth is that a lot of us experience it. Anytime your head suffers an impact, the brain will move and stop quickly. Depending upon the force of impact, there is usually stretching and brain cell damage which then leads to chemical changes. Estimates show 2 to 4 million athletic participants in the United States have a concussion. About a quarter million children are seen each year in the emergency room for concussions, 50% of which are caused by falls that are not sport-related.
Death is rare. Quality of life is what’s at risk, and it declines with compounding concussions. Some will even develop severe mood issues, dementia, and/or Parkinson-like movements after repetitive brain trauma, now known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. I’m relieved that football is now focusing on prevention. Correcting sports techniques, improving equipment, and training about better concussion screening are important steps. These could apply to any sport or activity. It’s when concussions happen we really need to prevent another by fully healing before “returning to play.” This applies to exercise and general life. Going to work or school and brain-engaging activities including television may need to be limited during healing.
How do you return to normal life? Follow closely with a physician who can monitor your progress and trust your doubts that “not feeling normal” means you are not ready. As a complex organ, a damaged brain causes a variety of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, memory loss, vision changes, fatigue/grogginess, confusion, difficulty with concentration, loss of consciousness, light or noise sensitivity, mood changes, and clumsy movements.
Concussions are more than headaches. They must be better prevented and properly treated. We may still hold our breath during this year’s Super Bowl every time our favorite players get hit. But at least we can now improve their care and recognize how much they are hurt.
David R. Bloom, M.D.