The hot topic of the summer and much of this past NFL season was concussions. I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference held at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, CO, where Dr. Robert Cantu was the keynote speaker. Dr. Cantu, a leading authority in sport concussion and the founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, shined a bright light on the truth about sports concussions.
In short, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by either a direct blow to the head or helmet or by a violent jar to the body in which the head whips in any direction suddenly. Common physical symptoms of a concussion include, but are not limited to, dizziness; headaches; fuzzy or blurred vision; difficulty balancing; and feeling tired, “run-down,” or groggy. Cognitive and emotional symptoms are sometimes accompanied and can include moodiness, inability to remember things, difficulty learning new tasks, trouble concentrating, and difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much. As you can see, concussions cover a wide range of symptoms that are cognitive, emotional, and physical.
Some of you may have read our article last week that discussed force and how the distribution of force on an athlete’s body plays a role in determining injury. In that piece, we mentioned Bob Sanders, former Colt great and current injured reserve Charger, and how he is always injured. This week in sports news you may have heard about Troy Polamalu. He plays the same position (safety) as Sanders, for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was removed from the game last week for having “concussion-like” symptoms. Troy collided with the piston-pumping knees of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and was sidelined. Polamalu was later seen talking on the phone with his helmet off, which is a violation of NFL rules. Troy was fined $10,000 for placing the call. Interesting. Clearly, Troy and his family have been made aware of the implications and seriousness of this type of injury. This incident was not Troy’s first concussion and will probably not be his last. The league could have easily overlooked the fine in my opinion.
Kerry Collins is currently being assessed weekly for his concussion, and Colt fans’ hearts sank last season when we saw Austin Collie (WR) lying motionless on the field a couple of times. Collie suffered concurrent concussions which can often complicate recovery. In an interview earlier this year, Peyton Manning joked (and later apologized) about concussion testing. In summary, Peyton said that he purposely performed poorly on the pre-concussion test so that if and when he were tested after a concussion, he could still pass the test and be cleared to play. There are various tests that are being used to screen all athletes prior to injury. These tests are meant to establish a baseline so that the doctors have a way of measuring the athlete’s progress and recovery.
There are many things the tests measure, but in general they are meant to assess the cognitive ability of the athlete. The idea is that you establish a baseline or “normal” score. Then, if the athlete suffers a head injury, he is re-tested. If his score is below his normal recorded baseline, he can’t play.
Very little is known about brain injuries, even at the highest level. At the conference I attended at the OTC, we were shown slides of NFL and NHL players’ brains. The difference between a “normal” brain and a “multiple concussion” brain was shocking. The experts agree that long-term affects from multiple concussive injuries is a very real concern, especially when the athlete did not recover from the first concussion and was prematurely cleared to play and subsequently sustained a second concussion.
Recovering from a concussion is usually a very passive process which involves lots of rest. Rest is defined as both “physical and mental”. In some cases, athletes are not even allowed to read. Young athletes are often not allowed to play video games or perform school work, as any mental strain, stress, or activity can slow or limit complete recovery.
Concussions are sort of like “the wall” in auto racing. Everyone knows the wall is there even though almost no one talks about it. But in the past two years, due to a better understanding and higher report rates, both the NFL and NHL have become more involved in addressing ways to make their respective sports safer. And because of the efforts of many, lots of people are now talking about concussions, and rightfully so.