Football. A game that has been woven into the social constructs of American society for decades. Football is a violent, punishing, unforgiving game, but does it really lead to detrimental health conditions years after players hang up their cleats and shoulder pads? Was there something the NFL conveniently ‘forgot’ to tell the thousands of players that rotate through the ranks or was the commissioner and other top officials in the dark about the risks of playing professional football?
As a society, we are currently trying to shift the popular opinion about concussions. For so many years, concussions were not seen as a serious injury. It was a rite of passage on the football field to ‘get your bell rung’ as the old timers would say. Athletes in a variety of sports were suffering a mild to moderate degree of brain injuries, and they were sent right back onto the field as if nothing had happened. Thankfully, with time and research, that opinion is slowly changing. There are still non-believers out there, like the members of the NFL’s first Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (mTBI).
A concussion happens when a blow to the head causes enough force for the brain to move and strike the inside of the skull. The brain is suspended in a fluid-type substance inside the skull cavity. While one of the functions of the fluid-like substance is shock absorption, a force strong enough to cause a collision of the brain into the bone will cause brain injury. Symptoms from a concussion can have an immediate onset and can last for a few days to months and can range from memory disruptions and mood changes to fatigue and sensitivity to light. A common misconception is that a person must lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion, but that is quite false. In 90% of concussions, there is no loss of consciousness.
Stepping forward and reporting a concussion does not happen in professional football, players do not want to be perceived as weak. The stigma around concussions is still alive and well. Traditional coaches and even some players see concussions as a ‘fake’ injury or not serious enough to be treated, when they are one of the most important injuries to treat. You can break a collar bone and tear an ACL and go through a recovery process that is visible and predictable. You cannot even see a concussion, except for an MRI or CT scan. Treatment approaches vary from clinician to clinician, but the consensus for the treatment of concussions is plenty of rest, light activity (non-sports related with no risk of further brain injuries), restriction of ‘screen time’ (cell phones, computer, tv, etc.), plenty of fluids and over the counter analgesics for headache symptoms. Even effective treatment can elicit healing times of weeks to months, the brain is a fickle and delicate organ.