OpEd: Head injuries pose highest risk to athletes
Published: Friday, April 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
Injury reports for largely followed sports like football and basketball are always in the news. While injuries like shoulder tears and knee blow-outs are widely recognized and talked about among fans, another type of injury continues to do the most damage to athletes of all sports. But just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it should be ignored.
Because head injuries aren't immediately noticeable to people the way a cast and crutches might be, they often get overlooked and underestimated by spectators, coaches and the players themselves. But the recent findings of a study on head injuries would have any athlete taking precautions in their sport. The problem is that many are unaware of the consequences, and it's time that something is done about it.
Concussions are a very common injury in sports and can affect athletes of any sport and age. In many cases, it can be hard to detect an internal head injury. And much too often, with encouragement from spectators and coaches, players brush themselves off and get right back into the game without second thought.
Concussions are serious. An undocumented one is even worse. To go right back into the game and get hit repetitively without recovery time can be fatal, and athletes do it all the time.
For years doctors were unable to confidently pinpoint concussions because they don't show up on CT scans or MRIs. But in 2008 the Boston University School of Medicine started doing what doctors should have looked into years ago: examining the tissue of deceased former pro-athletes to see exactly what head trauma looks like from the inside. What they've detected in every case is devastating: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a progressive, neuro-degenerative disease that causes early dementia in victims. The disease is usually linked to retired pro-athletes who experience symptoms of memory loss, confusion and depression. Though it's been linked with pro-athletes, in 2009, BU's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found CTE in an 18-year-old multi-sport athlete, the youngest case to date.
Head injuries in pro boxers, wrestlers and football players may be expected, but extensive brain damage in an 18-year-old is alarming and unacceptable. I doubt that a person so young would enjoy knowing that their brain was in the condition of a 65-year-old's, which shows that athletes— young and old— are unaware of the consequences of head injuries.
The problem is that many coaches don't educate their athletes on the risks of their sport. Instead, many encourage their athletes to shake off an injury and get back in the game, lest they want to jeopardize their position on the team.
What's even more scary is that young kids often start out playing every sport in the book— usually a different one each season— before they find their niche. Though this is a great way to develop a well-rounded and diverse athlete, it increases the likelihood of experiencing a concussion.
At today's rate, an athlete starting football at the age of 10 could experience six-10,000 concussions in his entire career if he continues to play through college. If kids don't learn the risks of head injuries at an early age, they'll experience more avoidable impact than they should.
So this is what needs to happen: all athletes need to be educated on the risks of head injuries before playing their sport and coaches should adapt new strategies to avoid head contact. Furthermore, national sports leagues should adopt new policies to reduce brain trauma in the game.
It's undeniable that all athletes get banged and bruised here and there, but the science behind sports and concussions should be alarming to all parents and athletes. If we don't make a change in sports policies now, the amount of CTE cases will grow and the results will be fatal.