July 1, 2011

A recent study showed that a teen athlete who had exhibited no signs of concussion nonetheless suffered the effects of one. The repeated blows this player took during the course of a football season never caused him to black out but did have a negative effect on his brain function. These were not the typicaltraumatic brain injuries.

The realization was chilling. How many young athletes in Oregon, for example, have sustained this unseen, undiagnosed injury? The key is “unseen.” The researchers never would have found the trauma to the brain if they hadn’t been testing the entire team from pre- to post-season.

Neurologists refer to these injuries as “sub-concussive blows.” When the researchers took their findings to brain specialists, the latter recognized the pattern. With or without external signs of injury, the fact remains that repeated blows to the head affect brain structure and brain — cognitive — function.

The specialists and the researchers presented their findings at a national meeting of athletic trainers. They had two messages for the group: First, more study is needed. Second, let’s find a way to take players’ heads out of the game.

One suggestion was to change the rules of football. For example, remove linemen from three-point stances; or, rework line play altogether, to remove the characteristic head-on collisions.

To illustrate the point, the presenters showed results of acceleration tests and the g-forces sustained by players.

Consider, they said, that a fairly substantial car crash is about 20 Gs. Studies have shown that linemen sustain hits of 20 to 30 Gs — on every play. A 90 to 100 G hit would likely cause concussion, even death. In the research we talked about in our last post, players’ helmets registered a couple of hits above 100 Gs.

The word is out about concussions and the more serious blows. The challenge now is how to identify or how to prevent the series of smaller blows that do just as much damage over time.

As more professional athletes show signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and autopsies confirm more cases of CTE, the focus on concussion will likely expand to include these sub-concussive blows.

Source: (New Orleans, LA), “Lesser blows now the big concern with regard to concussions,” Tammy Nunez (The Times-Picayune), 06/22/2011


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