With the start of football season, and many high school athletes beginning practices this week, there has been a good amount of discussion about the head injury rates in high school athletes. Everyone can picture the great football collision where the players end up in a pile, then coaches run onto the field, the player shakes it off, and keeps on playing. It turns out that just walking it off isn't effective in the case of concussions. These traumatic brain injuries are caused by collisions and jolts to the head, and concussions constitute 3/4 of all brain injuries on the field.
One of the biggest concerns about these concussions (some school districts have strict rules about how players with a concussion are allowed to play or practice after their injuries) is their long term effects. What happens to a high school or college football player who had a handful of brain injuries, hard tackles or landed on the bottom of the pile too many times when he turns 35? The focus of late has been on the immediate implications of the injury, not what happens 15 or 20 years down the road.
The NFL is starting to look at this as well. According to Insurance Journal, more than 3,000 former players and their families are suing the NFL for damages after their head injuries. Those players and families also contend that the league concealed information about the long-term dangers of repeated head injuries. The impact of brain injuries on daily life can be sizable, and the fallout from several concussions sustained over time can lead to a diference in the quality of life for those players. Medically speaking, over 2.4 million emergency room visits in 2009 were caused by brain injuries, so watching the way the NFL handles these types of situations, and even the allegations, may well trickle down to the elementary, middle and high school sports teams.
So what does this mean for those kids and teens starting back to practice? First and foremost, a head injury is no laughing matter. A concussion is a mildly traumatic brain injury that needs to be taken seriously. If a player gets multiple concussions, they may want to re-evaluate their position on the field, or perhaps consider stepping away from the game for a season. If professional players who've taken hundreds of hits are experiencing big problems from repeated injuries, then you can infer that even a small number of brain injuries will impact younger athletes in any sport.
Bottom line: be safe, have fun and take care of yourself after any injury, on or off the field.