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Traumatic Brain Injury Part II: Sports-related Concussions

Part I of the Traumatic Brain Injury series discussed the most common causes of TBI and the symptoms and health effects associated with this increasingly common injury. Part II of this series focuses on a particular type of TBI, a concussion, and more specifically, concussions caused by participation in sports.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 1.6--3.8 million sports and recreational-related concussions occur in the U.S. every year. Concussions can occur in a variety of ways--not only in contact sports such as football and hockey, but in sports such as skiing, soccer and skateboarding too. Any bump or jolt to the head with sufficient force can cause a concussion. Although a loss of consciousness is often associated with a concussion, it is not necessary to have sustained one. Symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, memory loss, vision disturbance, light and noise sensitivity, headache, and impaired balance are all indicative of a concussion. Depending on the severity and type of the concussion, some symptoms such as chronic headaches, fatigue, mood swings and short-term memory difficulties can last for weeks or even months.

Because by definition concussions are a disruption in the normal functioning of the brain, they can cause serious long-term health problems. Repeated concussions are particularly injurious, and former NFL players have successfully sued the League over such consequences as early-onset dementia, depression, and even suicide. Recognizing that a new concussion sustained before a prior concussion is fully healed is extremely harmful, all fifty states have enacted laws requiring players with concussions to be evaluated and given permission by a medical professional before returning to play. In addition, some sports have changed their rules in an effort to make the sport less violent so that fewer head injuries occur.

In May of this year, President Obama hosted the "Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Summit" to highlight the issue of TBI in youth sports. In addition to the rule of medical evaluation and permission for return to play, the Summit stressed other preventative measures such as wearing protective gear--especially helmets--that is current and fits well, following the safety rules for every sport, seeking medical attention for every head injury, and knowing the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

At the Summit, two giants in the sports world announced generous commitments toward reducing the danger posed by TBI in sports. The NCAA and the Department of Defense pledged $30 million for concussion education. The NFL pledged $25 million for health and safety forums, more trainers at high school games, and studies of the chronic health effects of repetitive concussions. Finally, the National Institute of Standards and Technology promised to invest 5 million over 5 years to develop more advanced materials that provide better protection against concussions for athletes, troops, and others.

Participation in sports is a good way for kids to stay active, learn discipline, and interact socially. Staying safe while playing sports is a goal we can all work toward. If you would like more information on sports-related concussions, contact the Thomas Law Firm.

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