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Are We Missing 80 Percent of Football Brain Injuries?


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Despite efforts by legislators, football league administrators, coaches, and parents we nevertheless may still be missing up to 80-percent of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) suffered by youth and college football players. We may be failing to identify these brain injuries due to the warrior culture in football and the tendency to minimize non-visible head injuries as “dings” or getting one’s “bell rung”. When it comes to less violent but repetitive traumas to the head, it appears that football culture has yet to recognize the risk inherent in these types of long-term, low-magnitude impacts. Unfortunately as our understanding of degenerative brain diseases advances, it appears that in the aggregate these low-magnitude impacts are at least as dangerous as their more violent counterpart.

Concussion and Brain Injury Risk Varies by Position, Level and Career Duration

A recent study at Harvard and Boston University analyzed football players by positional groupings. That is, cohorts were created based on the traditional football positional designations such as quarterback, offensive line, linebackers, and safeties to name a few. One of the major conclusions of the study is that brain injuries in football are being drastically underreported. The study found that for every concussion that is diagnosed or identified, four more suspected concussions go unnoticed, undiagnosed and unreported. This much greater incidence of brain injury may result in troubling medical developments for players and former players.

Other findings revealed by the study include that your risk of brain injury and the types of trauma one may experience can largely be predicted by the position one plays on the field. Offensive lineman appeared to experience a low-magnitude trauma on nearly every play from scrimmage. Players in skill positions like quarterback, wide receiver, or linebacker suffered fewer, but typically more violent head traumas. Following logically from these findings, the study also found that offensive linemen suffered from a significantly greater number of concussions that went unreported when compared to other positional groupings. Offensive linemen also reported brain trauma and concussion symptoms such as seeing stars, dizziness and headaches at much higher rates than other positional groupings. Finally the study found that offensive linemen were more likely to return to play despite signs and symptoms of a brain trauma.

Perhaps these findings can be explained by the culture of football and the perceived invulnerability of youth. For many athletes staying in a game or match despite pain or discomfort is a source of pride for a position where players are workhorses or rely on sheer will and determination – like the offensive line – these sentiments are typically stronger. Many players already feel like they shouldn’t come out of a game unless they are seriously injured by an obvious and violent impact. When it comes to these low-grade traumas, the optics aren’t there that would permit a player to save some face when exiting the game and further, the consequences are often remote and far removed from that particular game or match. All of this encourages the underreporting or brain injuries and encourages individuals to return to play prior to fully healing.

What Effect Does Repetitive Low-Grade Trauma Have on the Brain?

While we have long known that severe traumas to the brain can lead to problems and sever medical consequences, our understanding of the effects of low-magnitude impacts has developed more slowly. However, studies and research are showing that repetitive, low-magnitude impacts to the brain play a major role in the development of degenerative brain conditions like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE develops due the build-up of Tau proteins that occur following a trauma to the brain. Overproduction of tau proteins can result in tangles and plaques in the brain which are associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other catastrophic neurodegenerative diseases.

Put Our Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Experience to Work for You in Arkansas

For more than 20 years Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak has stood up for Arkansans who have suffered serious injuries. Whether you have experienced a TBI, a spinal injury, or a neck injury, Ken Kieklak can fight for you. To schedule your free and confidential personal injury consultation contact us online or call (479) 316-0438.

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