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With the kickoff of the NFL season last Thursday and the games and festivities on Sunday and Monday night, it is safe to say that football and fall sports are becoming firmly entrenched in the public consciousness. While the gridiron warriors have entertained and inspired Americans for generations, there has been a renewed focus of the game’s dangers and potential for traumatic brain injuries. In fact, just last week Junior Seau’s estate opted out of the NFL concussion settlement.
This renewed focus on concussions and brain injuries led the NFL to implement a new concussion protocol last season. However despite these efforts, the inherent nature of the game seems to nevertheless produce brain injuries that can have lifelong impacts and consequences. Already this year, potential star players such as first round draft picks Jadeveon Clowney and Calvin Pryor have suffered concussions in preseason practices. Similarly in the season opener, Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy suffered a concussion.
This blog post is intended to serve two purposes. First, this post will inform regarding the severity and lifelong consequences a traumatic brain injury can cause. Second, this post will hopefully help fans understand the NFL concussion protocol which can be particularly frustrating to those who may not understand why their favorite player was not permitted to play that week.
Why are TBIs so Serious?
Traumatic brain injuries are particularly serious injuries because the brain is the control center for all of the body’s functions. Disruptions to the brain’s activities or damage to its structures can result in a wide range of problems. These can include problems with attention or focus, difficulty with abstract concepts, increased aggression, confusion, or even death. Generally speaking more serious brain injuries cause more serious disruptions to your everyday life. Unfortunately even when there is no apparent short-term damage, repeated TBIs – even mild ones – increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Researchers also suspect that repeated head injuries may play some role as to the development of other degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. Faced with new facts regarding head injuries and public concern over the issue, the NFL has taken action. However this action may not please all fans as the NFL’s concussion protocol may put your favorite player on the sidelines until they return to their baseline results.
How are TBIs being handled by NFL teams?
While traumatic brain injuries can be caused by a blunt-force trauma to the brain or a penetrating injury caused by a foreign object, the NFL’s concern is mainly with the former injury type. The NFL’s protocol regarding concussion diagnosis and management was developed by its Head, Neck, and Spine Committee. The process begins long before players set foot on a practice field with an educational component coupled with physical exams and a baseline neurological test.
Before the neurological assessment can occur, players are subjected to a physical exam by team physicians which measures a player’s reaction time, memory, and balance. The doctor will also attempt to determine how many previous concussions the player has suffered and their recovery time. Aside from observable signs, the doctor also asks the player about any symptoms they are currently experiencing. A complete longitudinal picture of the player’s health presents a picture of the individual’s health prior to a suspected concussion or other TBI. This information can help the physician understand if the player is experiencing symptoms or signs of a brain injury or a pre-existing condition. These symptoms can include headache, neck pain, back pain, and fatigue.
Once an initial history and physical exam has been established, the player then undergoes neuropsychological testing to establish. This testing analyzes the player’s performance in a number of areas including cognition, problem-solving, memory and other cognitive abilities. Commonly administered tests include the computer-based ImPACT test (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) and the U.S. Army developed Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM). These test results are analyzed by a team neurologist and kept of file by the team should a player or team suspect a TBI.
What game day precautions have the NFL Enacted?
One of the requirements of the NFL’s concussion protocol is that team medical crews must develop, implement and practice an Emergency Medical Action Plan (EAP). The EAP must be team and facility specific – a generalized one-size-fits-all plan is insufficient. The plan must also be provided to and reviewed by the visiting team prior to the game.
Second, the NFL is assigning an impartial and unaffiliated neuro-trauma consultant to each team for each NFL game and practice. This board certified or board eligible neurologist must be present on the team’s sidelines during a game and are assigned the following responsibilities including:
- Identification of signs and symptoms of brain injuries
- Work with team TBI specialists to implement teams TBI identification and management protocol
- Observe and oversee team physicians
Should a team doctor or neuro-trauma consultant diagnose a concussion, the Madden Rule come into play. This rule requires the player to be removed from the field and to undergo observation in the locker room. The player is not permitted to speak to the media until he is medically cleared.
Should a traumatic brain injury occur, the player will not be permitted to return to play or practice until he satisfies the return-to-play protocol. Generally speaking, the player must first return to their baseline status. Then they may participate in a progressively difficult exercise challenge. The player must be cleared by not only the team doctor, but also by the independent neurological consultant.
If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury, you may be able to obtain compensation. For your free and confidential TBI consultation, call the traumatic brain injury lawyers of the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak at (479) 251-7767 or contact us online.
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