Concussion Awareness in Football

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In recent years concussions have been more closely related to football than ever before. While concussions can happen in just about any contact sport, football players are at the highest risk for many reasons. A concussion is a brain injury that’s not easily diagnosed by professionals and therefore requires a full examination of the players’ cognitive function. According to the National Institute of Health, a concussion happens when “a hit to the head or body causes your head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in your brain. Sometimes it can also stretch and damage your brain cells.” Every year health institutes, collegiate organizations, and the NFL are learning more and more about concussions and their treatment.

It wasn’t until 1994 that the NFL established its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, the first to acknowledge that concussions were a growing problem. Since then, doctors have vigorously studied the brains of current players, past players, and deceased players. One of the most important findings in the study of concussions came in 2002 when CTE was first identified in the brain of a former NFL player. CTE is short for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a long-term neurodegenerative disease that is only diagnosable with an autopsy. Recently, CTE has been closely associated with former NFL players. It wasn’t until 14 years after CTE had been first found in a former NFL player’s brain that the NFL publicly spoke about the indisputable connection between the league and the disease. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found 110 out of 111 NFL players had evidence of CTE in their brains. Many players have since donated their brains to science so that research on long-term conditions involving concussions could be studied. Head injuries can cause many different conditions through the course of one’s life, including but not limited to anxiety, substance abuse, depression, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

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This problem isn’t just happening in the NFL, but in collegiate and youth football as well. Former players who used to be football all-stars are now coming together and calling for a ban on the sport. While this is unlikely to happen any time soon, it’s important that players and coaches are educated on the impact a head injury can have on their lives, along with how important it is to seek help if they think they could have a concussion.

Because tackle football is the most popular high school sport in America, football players suffer more concussions than anyone else. In fact, if you compare a high school football player to a high school baseball player, that football player is 16x more likely to get a concussion than the baseball player. In relevance to basketball players, football players are 4x more likely. Even worse, on average, 2.4 high school football players will die due to a head injury on the field each year.

As the competition increases, the likelihood of a concussion in football goes up as well. Collegiate level players report that they seek treatment for one out of every six concussions they believe they’ve incurred. One of the hardest parts of diagnosing and treating a concussion effectively at this level is convincing the players to come forward when they think they have a head injury. Protocol insists upon the player coming out of the game or practice to be examined, so many players would rather push through it and not disappoint their team or coach than sit on the sidelines. When players act this way, they don’t fully understand the damage they’re doing to their brains. Another hiccup in the football culture is that certain positions are so used to banging their head around, they think that dizziness and losing consciousness is a normal part of their day. Running backs and offensive linemen are the most susceptible to concussions, and are the least likely to report one.

Concussion protocol is pretty new to the entire football industry, but an extremely important concept to integrate into every program. It was only back in 2005 that the NFL believed that “returning to play after sustaining a concussion does not involve significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during season.” We now know that a concussion can get worse if a player continues to participate in sport. Now, players are to be immediately removed from the field so that a full examination can be performed on them. If they’re diagnosed with a concussion, they’re not to return to play until they’ve followed the return to play process. This process includes plenty of rest, aerobic exercises, an introduction back to strength training, sport specific drills, and then full clearance.

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While the sport has changed considerably overtime in the attempt to limit concussions, the NFL saw a 16% increase in concussions this past season. In greater attempt to prevent or minimize head injuries, helmets are adapting as we learn more about dangerous impact. Helmets have evolved from the 1930’s leather helmets, to the 1940’s plastic helmet, 1950’s fiber shell helmet, all the way to our current Riddell helmets that are air inflated for a snug fit. 360 helmets work to disperse impact around its shell and lessen the blow to the head. These newer helmets have lowered the concussion rate by a considerable amount.

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New technology is being introduced each year in attempt to save the game and the brains of each player. The SAFE clip is one of the newest equipment introductions in the world of football. The SAFE clip attaches onto your football helmet and helps absorb impact from hits to the face mask. It allows the facemask to have some “give” so that it can move with the blow and then return to its original position. The SAFE clip can absorb up to 28% of the direct hit.

Players, coaches, and parents should do everything in their power to encourage the proper reporting of concussion symptoms. The game might be everything to a player in the moment, but years from now, they’re going to wish they sat out for the game they can no longer even remember.