Sunday, April 3, 2011

Brain injury in a football hero

By Richard P. Holm M.D

If you ask any of us who were on the DeSmet High School football team of 1966, we will tell you about how hard we played, the joy of our teamwork, our lasting friendships, and, of course, about our winning record. But I have come to realize now how foolish I was to repeatedly lower my head and use it as a battering ram hitting my opponents with everything I had.

Although contact sports are so much an enjoyable part of our modern life, we are finally coming to realize the danger such games can cause to the heads of the players. Nearly one and a half million head injuries occur in the United States each year and 20% or more of these are sports related. Researchers show that in football, soccer, and ice hockey, every season around 50% of the athletes experience some kind of concussion symptoms following a hit to the head.

What is worse news, research has revealed that once a concussion happens, that individual is very susceptible to permanent brain injury after a second-impact. Like playing on a twisted ankle, it’s the second hit that does the real damage.

It is a scientific fact that head trauma can result in subtle neuro-cognitive loss and later even chronic progressive brain disease and mental illness. One well-known example is the boxer Mohammed Ali who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, the likely consequence of repeated head trauma.

So how do we protect the brains of our youth? We should start by teaching players, couches, and parents to recognize the symptoms of concussion. If head trauma results in a headache, dizziness or imbalance, nausea or vomiting, any confusion, double vision, memory loss, sleep disturbance, emotional change, intolerance to loud noise or bright lights, or especially any hint of loss of consciousness, then there has been, by definition, a concussion. More on this at

Any athlete with such an experience should immediately stop playing, especially in order to prevent the second impact syndrome. Medical professionals should direct any athlete, who experiences concussion not to return to contact play until they experience one completely symptom-free week.

It is better to miss one game than be brain injured for a lifetime.

1 comment:

Greg Hood said...

An excellent post on an important topic. While we generally have the problem today that kids don't get out enough to exercise and live life I do wonder how often they, or we when we were children, may have suffered an undiagnosed concussion because we were playing/rough-housing/climbing/falling in an unsupervised activity? Such injuries could have a cumulative effect as well.