There is no cure for concussions. There is no remedy that exists today to undue the damage to the brain generated from a direct blow to angular forces to whiplash type injuries. When the developing brain, in particular, is forcibly disturbed the consequences are significant. As a result, the focus at present is to prevent a traumatic head injury from happening to begin with, recognizing a head injury even took place and, if sports-related, expeditiously removing the player from the game to avoid dreaded re-injury and offer supportive care/measures.
The brain does not like to be bothered. Let it be and it will serve you well throughout your lifetime. It is a temperamental organ that does not repair itself like other parts of the body do when subjected to insult. The central nervous system (ie brain, brainstem, spine) has yet to learn ideal wound healing and gets inflamed. Hence, the grave importance of complete avoidance of re-injury after the primary event. A concussed brain (aka a traumatic brain injury (TBI) albeit mild to severe) when re-injured can swell and induce second impact syndrome resulting in sudden death. The stakes are high here, let alone the lasting effects if one survives repetitive injury.
When it comes to TBIs, it is a mistake to think loss of consciousness is the only true head trauma. It is very important for parents, children and coaches to understand that head trauma can occur with or without loss of consciousness. Many concussions are missed because players aren’t fully educated on the topic and their desire to remain in the game overshadows their focus on the big picture. The current wave of media attention is doing wonders in raising awareness and educating the masses. With the NFL football settlement center stage, it is important to note that all sports and even recreational activities can prompt head traumas. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s personal concussion story along with mentions of NBA and major league baseball players accounts as well are propelling exposure. In fact, NASCAR developed an initiative to have baseline concussion studies on all its competitors.
New skull caps and helmets, in particular, are being used and tested to alert players of the severity of head impacts in football. Early findings indicate that players are using safer maneuvers to avoid direct injury so as not to be taken out of the game. This is a wonderful byproduct of what appears to be a promising start to designing some uniform system for detection—- but, there is much more that we have yet to learn about the significance of these tests and how they can be interpreted. However, since we know hitting our head is never a good thing, my zero tolerance for continued play immediately following a head injury still stands: NO player should stay in the game concussed or be allowed to return to play without full, proper evaluation by a physician and in the case of concussion or head trauma, a neurologist!
Our culture and society, not just the NFL, is complicit when it comes to the injuries sustained by the NFL players. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. There are many who have no empathy given the “millions” these players make—by the way, they all don’t make that and many have incredibly short careers as a result of the physical tolls taken on their bodies. I am not going to feed that debate here as it is not my focus. There are ways, however, to make systems safer. The blame game benefits no one. Hopefully, this NFL settlement and continued media coverage on the hazards of head trauma will compel significant changes to be made that can benefit the players, their families and those in youth sports dreaming to be them one day.
I am not a proponent of eliminating every type of activity that has a risk, because the reality is every single thing we do in life has risk or one must question if he is really living?! Look at medicine right now and the risk of Ebola for health care workers especially in the hot zone. We all take risks, but there are ways to make situations much safer. I am also an advocate of individual autonomy and personal responsibility. Let all parties be properly informed to determine what risks they are willing to take— this current wave of traumatic brain injury attention seems to be educating many of those directly and indirectly involved. Education is a powerful tool.
For more information, I recommend this insightful piece that details the damage to brain cells as a result of trauma and promising future treatment of concussions. Though they have yet to have practical applications in humans, one day, they —hopefully—will! Additionally, it underscores the importance of quick action in the context of a head trauma: What a concussion looks like inside your brain | The Rundown | PBS NewsHour