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Who'da Thunk It?

"The idea that you can whack your head hundreds of times in your life and knock yourself out and get up and be fine is gone. We know we can't do that anymore. This causes long-term damage."

That's a quote from Chris Nowinski. He played football at Harvard before wrestling professionally with World Wrestling Entertainment. And he's quoted in this CNN article about the profound brain damage that shows up in at least some cases where athletes suffered repeated concussions. Only we're not just talking about boxing anymore. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston U School of Medicine is studying football players.

I want to know more about the research. The headline photos and quotes make a strong argument, but then, that's their job. Goes with the territory. Just as it goes with the territory that football players bash their heads and bodies against those of other players and the ground.


May 31, 2007: The New York Times: "The rate of diagnosed clinical depression among retired National Football League players is strongly correlated with the number of concussions they sustained, according to a study to be published today."

October 5, 2005: Medical News Today:
"Concussions promote dementias in retired professional American football players, New study at UNC"

May 18, 2004: Neuroscience for Kids. "Recording data from sensors attached to the helmets of college players, researchers at Virginia Tech, led by mechanical engineer Stefan Duma, recorded more than 3,300 hits to the head during 10 games and 35 practice sessions in 2003. They concluded that players receive an average of 50 hits to the head, each with an average force of 40G (40 times the force of gravity). This is similar to the force generated by a boxer's gloved punch. The most severe hits were recorded at around 120G, which is approximately the amount of forced associated with a severe car crash. It is not unusual for a player to endure one or two hits of this magnitude during the course of a game."

American Association of Neurological Surgeons on concussion:

"Prevalence and Incidence

"Concussions are a common occurrence in sports. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 300,000 concussions annually among professional, college, and high school football players. This figure may be low because of cases that are self-treated or unreported.

"Reasonable estimates show that between 4 to 20 percent of college and high school football players will sustain a brain injury over the course of one season. The risk of concussion in football is three to six times higher in players who have had a previous concussion.

"A study conducted by McGill University in Montreal found that 60 percent of college soccer players reported symptoms of a concussion at least once during the season. The study also revealed that concussion rates in soccer players were comparable to those in football. According to this study, athletes who suffered a concussion were four to six times more likely to suffer a second concussion."


Okay, that's just pulling a few bits from a Google search from what appeared to be credible sources. I ran across another alarming report of concussion rates in female high school athletes and how they tend to be overlooked 'cause everyone's focusing on football and male concussions. But while it sounded real, it was on a website of a company selling headbands that help protect soccer players. They have a vested interest in emphasizing the risk.

There's rugby, too.

What's the whole picture look like? And what's the evidence going to show after they've examined brain tissue in dozens or hundreds of deceased athletes? Or when we have imaging capabilities that show the damage in real time?

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
buttonlass
Jan. 28th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
My response to this "news" was "Duh!". I read this article and was amazed that people haven't been convinced of the danger of hitting your head for years. Yes they seem to have linked it to depression now which is interesting but that's the latest in a string of things that go wrong.

Hitting ones head repeatedly will cause damage to all sorts of things, it's a delicate piece of equipment. The end. It makes me a little flabbergasted that people don't just assume it's bad for you period.

I watched a lot of boxing growing up and I can't count the number of people who just weren't right in the head.
lesliet_ma
Jan. 28th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
Speaking as a person who has had several concussions in her lifetime, that's depressing.

The first was as a child when I fell off a wall, bonked my head, and was out for a few seconds.

The later ones were due to falls from horseback riding. I can remember two specifically. It is a very creepy feeling to be walking around and suddenly realize that you don't remember what's been happening for the last 30 minutes or so. It's even scarier when the people around you suddenly realize that you don't remember what's been happening and start to panic and whisk you off to the hospital.

Well, what's done is done. In retrospect, I don't think I would have given up the riding. It was too darn much fun. They do have better helmets now, though, than the ones I used when I was younger.
randy_byers
Jan. 28th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
I heard an article on NPR a while back about a study the NFL is doing on whether NFL players have a higher rate of dementia than the rest of the population due to concussions. IIRC this is being partly driven by the wife of John Mackey, who was a tight end for the Baltimore Colts who suffers from dementia. Ah, here's the NPR story by Frank Deford.
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