Much has been written about the dangers of contact sports and the effects that physical injuries sustained in our youth can have on our bodies for a lifetime. Most adults do not need to read the medical literature to know about these risks. They need only listen to their creaky knees, sore/stiff shoulders and elbows or chronic back pain. These are the adult manifestations of physical injuries sustained in those glory days. But perhaps the greatest impact for some may be caused by undetectable injuries with great psychological impact from repetitive head trauma that is common place in contact sports. Concussions. "Getting your bell rung" or "knocked silly" on the field of battle is a right of passage in football, hockey, wrestling, and boxing. But concussions can occur in many other sports and activities - skiing, skate boarding, biking, and cheerleading for example.
Recent studies have discovered a condition (chronic traumatic encephalopathy CTE) that is as real as the rush any athlete feels from competing in a sport that he/she loves. Scientists are just discovering the cause(s) and effect(s) of this condition but the initial evidence is compelling and disconcerting. The post mortem study of brain tissue from individuals that competed in contact sports have shown real damage to cell tissue which cannot presently be diagnosed in living tissue and cannot be explained by any other disease process. CTE is suspected to lead to depression and compromised brain function and the scientists who are studying this condition believe that the link to repetitive head trauma is undeniable.
Experts warn that this condition is not limited to collegiate or professional athletes but that evidence of the condition (CTE) has also been found in the brain tissue of teens. One problem thought to lead to CTE is the manner in which injured players are treated - or not treated post injury. Unlike detectable physical injuries (i.e., a fractured bone, a laceration requiring stitches or a torn ligament), brain injuries are diagnosed by subjective standards and not objective testing (i.e., xray, MRI, CT Scan). As a result, athletes are often sent back into competition before their brain has had a chance to heal. It is not known how much this plays into the development of CTE but it is believed to be a factor. We know that an athlete would never be allowed to return to a game after fracturing a bone until the injury was given the appropriate time to mend.
Protocols for head trauma are being reconsidered. Safety equipment and rules are being discussed in an attempt to limit head trauma. In the meantime, head trauma is a part of many sports and cannot be eliminated. The point of this blog article is to bring further awareness to this problem and to urge parents, players and coaches to take these injuries more seriously.
At NR&S we represent hundreds of clients each year who sustain concussions or head trauma in auto accidents and work place injuries. We are staying on top of the science in this area to best represent our client's interests.
If you'd like to learn more about the science of CTE, take a look at this video report or pick up a copy of Rolling Stone (January 31, 2013 edition) which has an excellent article on the subject.