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William B. Eadie | Feb 12, 2015

Football Concussions

Categories: Brain Injury

Are you ready for some football?! For many parents, it starts on Friday on high school fields, there’s Saturday college football (and pee wee leagues). Sunday—and Monday, and Thursday—we get the NFL. Exciting, fast-paced (usually), and explosive, Football has become the dominant American sport.

Among all the cheering, though, more parents are growing anxious about head injuries in sports their children play. Not only for the kids in pee-wee leagues but all the way to the NFL. High-profile NFL players have also gone on record saying they do not want their children playing football due to the concussion rate. According to a new national poll released by the ESPNW:

  • 2/3 of parents agree that too much focus is placed on winning, rather than having fun. Both mothers and fathers show equal concern over the matter.
  • 7 out of 10 parents worry about the time commitment and financial investment involved in the escalating popularity in youth sports. 3 of the 10 parents believe this is a major cause for concern.
  • Currently, parents worry most about football accidents causing concussions.
  • Over 87% of parents worry about their children getting injured in sports, with concussion the leading concern. A quarter of all parents have considered keeping their kids home from school after a head injury.

The concerns are real. Football is the number one cause of concussions in male high school athletes and lacrosse is the top sport for women. Perhaps as a result of the focus on youth sport injuries—and concussions specifically—there has been a huge drop in participation in youth sports within the last several years. In 2008, 44.5% of children ages 6-12 participated in some sports organization. However, in 2013 only 40% of children participated in a sports team.

A concussion can happen due to a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury. They can also occur when the brain moves rapidly back and forth, due to a blow to the body. A sudden movement like this can cause stretching, damaged cells, and can create chemical changes in the brain. If a concussion happens, the brain becomes more vulnerable to further injury. Athletes who have repeated concussions are more likely to get long-term brain damage. They are more likely to develop a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). According to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine, CTE is “is a progressive degenerative brain disease characterized by deposits of an abnormal form of tau protein.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserts that “[c]hildren and teens are more likely to get a concussion and take longer to recover than adults.” The National Center for Injury Prevention estimates that 47 % of high school football players are diagnosed with a concussion each season, with 35% of those reporting multiple concussions in a single season. The American College of Sports Medicine claims that an average of 85% of concussions go undiagnosed.

Football is making some changes—players are no longer told to “put the helmet on the ball,” which caused a lot of fumbles, but a lot of head injuries, too—but the sport can’t eliminate concussions without eliminating full-contact. Wearing properly-fitted helmets and protective equipment correctly can reduce the risk somewhat. But not eliminate it.