Check Up from the Neck Up
Insights and perspectives on injury prevention, rehabilitation, health and fitness
After reading an article entitled “This is your brain on Football” by Paul Solotaroff, which appeared in the January issue of Rolling Stone, I felt a deep sense of sadness for the parents mentioned in the article who had lost their teenage children due to football related injuries: more specifically from concussions. I couldn’t help but think about a period of time, approximately two years ago when my own teenager, now 17 years of age had reported symptoms of a concussion including headaches, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, not to mention ringing in his ears. Just like the boys in the article, my son did not want to worry me; he failed to mention the few occasions when he hit his head or collided with another player. I shudder to think about what these families must be going though and the millions of kids that are still at risk. “The new science of concussions proves that high school football is America’s most dangerous game” according to the author Paul Solotaroff.
An 18-year-old named Eric Pelly, was killed by a pair of concussions, that did not appear to be life threatening, according to those who witnessed them.
Before his death, friends and relatives noticed that Eric was clearly not the same kid and recall that he couldn’t seem to focus, follow a conversation, or get to sleep. Ten days after a tackle sent him to the hospital, Eric was home with his family eating dinner, when he suddenly seizes up mid-sentence. His eyes roll back and his fists clench tight. Eric dies from a massive brain swell either before he hit the floor or within a couple of seconds of having done so. Two years later, neuropathologists examining Eric’s brain have found the brown-tinted markers of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Nathan Stiles-National Honor Society student, senior homecoming king and a running back for the Kansas high school football team, had life by the throat when he returned unhealed, from a prior concussion. In his final game, he was playing well before he suddenly stumbled off, holding his head. There had been no big collision or helmet-to-helmet takedown, however, with post-concussive kids, a trivial blow can induce fatal swelling in the brain. Hours later, Nathan was brain-dead in an ICU, where his devastated parents donated his bone and tissue. Neuropathologist Dr. Ann Mckee, reported that both Nathan and Eric had clumps of poisoned tau, the primary culprit in CTE.
We have learned that concussions occur when the brain is violently shaken, bouncing against the hard walls of the skull. The primary damage isn’t bruises and bleeds but is from rotational and linear stretching and tearing. Researchers report that if given the proper time and rest, the brain can rewire itself. Learning that Nathan and Eric tried to hide their symptoms, as well as the many other players who do not want to be removed from the game, I wondered what could be done to prevent these tragedies?
How do we explain to players and parents that it is essential to define what “proper rest” means- and what the lack of rest portends for an injured brain. Dr. Robert Cantu states that physical rest is crucial, as well as cognitive rest, and orders his patients to refrain from watching television, switch off the laptop and Xbox until their cluster of symptoms has cleared. Failure to let the nervous system mend sets up patients for PCS, or post concussive syndrome and for future concussions. It is those repeated insults to an unhealed brain that poison the tau proteins. Though Dr. Cantu has tended to dozens of pro athletes, his main concern is school-age kids whose risk for harm is greater. Due to basic physiognomy, kids are now bigger and faster but lack mature muscle in and around their necks to brace for the hits they see coming.
What can we do help prevent permanent brain damage and or loss of life as a result of concussions? It starts by requiring everyone connected with school athletics to be educated in the symptoms and perils of concussions. If a child is suspected of having a concussion, he or she is pulled from the game or practice field, and barred from play until cleared by a physician.
Jenni Jolly, M.A. in Clinical Psychology
Vice President Mission Competition Fitness Equipment
Mother On A Mission
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