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The Hard-Hitting Truth About Sports Concussions


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Final scores, rankings and rivalries: The traditions of fall football season for fans and teams are not the only outcomes getting coverage in sports news lately. Rates and effects of players' concussions are getting attention too.

Concussions happen when blows to or sudden movements of the head cause the brain to move around and bump into the inside of the skull, which can lead to permanent damage over time. The immediate effects of a concussion include confusion, nausea, headache and loss of consciousness. Players of contact sports such as football, soccer and hockey are at higher risk for concussions, and women may suffer more symptoms than men, as illustrated by the cautionary story of former soccer player Briana Scurry.

Recently, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre revealed his fears that the toll of a lifetime of hits is the cause of his frequent memory lapses. Such lapses may be a sign of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), evidence of which has been also been found in the brains of several former football players who committed suicide.

The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council have called for more research on the effects, both short term and long term, of sports-related concussions and for better ways to diagnose brain injury. The groups’ recommendations are aimed in part at schools and athletic programs charged with making sure athletes at all levels, from high school to professional, report concussion symptoms.

This issue is particularly salient for young people (and their parents) who want to play contact sports in school. According to a large study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens who've been seriously injured in a fight show a reduction in IQ over time. The injuries sustained in high-contact sports might not be so different. And unfortunately, it appears that high-tech equipment and helmets do not protect against concussions and that lowering concussion risk may require a combination of increased awareness, vigilance and possible changes to contact rules for sports.

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Conversation Continues feature ongoing discussions or news on current health topics with links to related materials.  They are part of the Center for Advancing Health’s portfolio of free, evidence-based coverage of what it takes to find good care and make the most of it.

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Luke says
November 12, 2013 at 1:11 AM

I think it is definitely important to check into changing the rules in order for people to maintain their long and short-term health.