If you are a fan of “The Matrix” movie, then you might be interested in following the “Information Matrix” hosted by Laurence Fishburne. Their latest segment focused on concussion safety – a hot topic in sports today.
Concussions have become a public safety concern, especially after the American Football studies found that players who suffered repeated concussions also suffered from long-term cognitive disorders as a result.
During the segment, experts weighed in on concussion safety and emphasized the importance for parents, coaches, and even school officials to know what a concussion is, the symptoms of head trauma, and what to do so that they can keep their players safe.
Concussions can lead to short and long-term complications, which is why it is vital for anyone playing sports (including youth leagues) to know the signs and symptoms.
What the New Segment Uncovers
Do you know the common symptoms of head trauma? If you don’t, you are not alone. When children and adults play sports, most of us assume a bump on the head is nothing to worry about. In fact, in the past, coaches, parents, and other players have just told their fellow teammates to “walk it off.” Today, we know different.
However, the public still has not been sufficiently educated. While sports leagues are doing their part to educate coaches and assistants, parents and players also need education on how severe head trauma can be.
Recently, more research has been done to identify the risks of repeated head trauma, and now it is becoming a public awareness issue. Before, coaches did not realize that a player could still suffer long-term damage after one strike on the field. Furthermore, they did not know how long a player needed to recover and the consequences of allowing them back onto the field too early to be subjected to further head trauma.
Sports-Related Head Trauma Is Serious and Real
Sports injuries rarely lead to fatality. But when someone dies from a sports-related injury, it typically stems from traumatic brain injuries.
What Are Traumatic Brain Injuries?
Traumatic brain injuries, also known as TBIs, are blows to the head or penetrating injuries that alter the normal functioning for the brain. A TBI can occur in a variety of instances, including car accidents, sudden hits to the head, or when an object pierces the skull.
The symptoms for these injuries can be mild to severe, and for some, the symptoms are not apparent right away – which makes diagnosing them even more difficult.
Depending on the extent of the injury itself, a person can suffer from catastrophic, long-term complications, including decreased learning capacity, attention and memory disorders, speech disorders, and more.
How Serious Is Repetitive Head Trauma in Sports?
There are long-term effects associated with repetitive mild head injuries, and these mild head injuries are not always serious concussions. Likewise, the player does not have to lose consciousness to be at higher risk for long-term complications.
One study conducted in 2014 found that mild traumatic brain injuries lead to a metabolic derangement with increased excitotoxic neurotransmitter release. They conducted these studies after researching the potential threats of repetitive head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
What Is CTE?
CTE is a chronic condition that was formerly thought to only happen to boxers after repeated blows to the head. It was initially called dementia pugilistica. CTE is a progressive disease that afflicts those who have suffered repeated concussions and TBIs. This can happen to athletes playing any sport that puts them at high risk for head trauma and those in the military (specifically combat zones).
Over the past few years, new research has emerged about CTE. In fact, the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank has researched and helped athletes, coaches, and the public better understand what CTE is and how it can be prevented.
CTE occurs when Tau proteins form and clump together in the brain. This spreads, and everywhere they touch they leave behind dead brain cells. CTE can strike at any age – something that was not known a few years ago. In fact, someone as young as 17 could develop CTE, but they will not be symptomatic until years later. This is why the head trauma from repeated impacts were not associated with the illness’ symptoms until later in many cases.
Most patients with CTE start showing symptoms in their late 20s and sometimes early 30s. The symptoms mimic other brain degenerative disorders, and it is commonly misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s.
Early symptoms are often diagnosed for psychological disorders, such as aggression, impulse control issues, depression, or paranoia. However, psychological medications and therapy will only mask the symptoms; they cannot cure CTE once it starts.
It is in the later progression of the disease that the real damage of CTE shows. Patients will have difficulty thinking or remembering. They may suffer from confusion, judgment issues, and fall into dementia at a progressive rate. These cognitive symptoms tend to show in the late 40s to early 50s, which is why they are commonly misdiagnosed as early-onset Alzheimer’s instead of CTE.
The Source of CTE
Multiple athletes have been found to have CTE upon autopsy. Unfortunately, despite the extra knowledge on this brain disease, no one has figured out a way for early detection. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of CTE is through autopsy. Some imaging scans are being developed with CTE in mind, but it could be years before these scans can pick up Tau protein development in the brain.
Some sources of head impacts that may trigger Tau proteins to release and multiply include:
- Punches to the skull
- Hits to a helmet
- Headers and collisions
- Blast injuries
- Repeated violence, such as domestic abuse
Repetitive Head Trauma Does Not Always Mean CTE
While repetitive concussions and trauma to the head are common in instances of CTE, not every person with repetitive head trauma develop CTE.
Likewise, the type of hit may matter. Symptomatic concussions and sub-concussive strikes that do not have symptoms can lead to CTE. For example, a routine tackle in a game of football is enough to create a sub-concussive hit. This is because the brain stops suddenly.
The brain relies on a delicate order inside the skull. It floats inside the skull on its stem. And when the skull (its barrier) outside stops suddenly, twists, or takes a violent strike, the brain strikes the side of the skull and damages the tissue.
In strikes severe enough, the brain tissue is damaged and starts to release Tau protein. Repeated hits force further Tau protein to release, compounding a serious problem already present and eventually leading to full CTE.
Children May Be at Higher Risk
The primary reason for the special on TV was to let parents know that it is not just professional athletes at high risk for CTE either. In fact, children may be more susceptible. Also, the earlier they start playing in sports that carry a risk for head trauma, the more likely they are to develop CTE down the road. This is because a child’s brain has not developed fully until they reach their mid-20s.
Also, a child’s head is already larger compared to their body and neck as they grow. When you add helmet weight, such as a football or skateboarding helmet, the child is more imbalanced and susceptible to falls.
Some researchers believe that, as a child ages, when they play sports like football, the hits become more intense. They say that the hits can increase the threat of CTE, regardless if the brain is fully developed or not.
Any sport that involves strikes to the head is a risk; not just football. While football is one of the sports where CTE has been discovered in retired players, other sports include:
- Martial Arts
- Skateboarding or Snowboarding
- Trampoline Sports
- Water Sports
Helmets Are Not a Catch-All
While helmets are required, no helmet has been developed to protect someone from CTE. Instead, these only protect to an extent. And with hockey and football players suffering from CTE despite their use of a helmet, it is obvious that the shaking of the skull is enough to put someone at risk for CTE.
Research has already shown that CTE is more prevalent than initially thought. More players, especially as they age, start to show symptoms of the disease – by then the damage is done.
Parents, players, and coaches need to be more aware of the risks of CTE, and they need to realize that a perfectly healthy person with no symptoms may have CTE lingering in their brain. The only way to prevent CTE is to create better safety rules for tackles, checks, and how a player is handled when head trauma does occur.
Awareness is not enough, however. Leagues and coaches need to be held accountable when they allow a player to return to the field after serious head trauma.
Parents and Children with CTE Have Rights
Leagues are aware of the risk of CTE. This means they need to teach parents, be more cautious about letting players back on the field, and create safety protocols to lessen the chances of a player developing CTE later.
If you or a loved one developed CTE from childhood, semi-pro, or professional league sports, you might have a claim for your head injury and the medical costs that it causes. CTE is degenerative, and as the disease progresses, it will dramatically impact your quality of life. Therefore, you deserve compensation for the medical costs, in-home care, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by this life-altering disease.
To explore your options, speak with an attorney that has experience handling claims for CTE. The team at Berkowitz Hanna can help you.
Contact Berkowitz Hanna today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation.