Concussions in football and subconcussive impacts both may have long-term consequences for sports players. A player who has suffered a concussion is taken out of the game immediately. One who has a subconcussive impact is generally allowed to continue playing.
Concussions in Football
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when a person suffers a blow to the head or a body impact is so great that the brain jostles back and forth or twists around in the skull. The slamming of the soft brain against the hard skull results in damage to brain cells.
After a jolt to the head or body, a person with a concussion will often say they just don’t feel right. There are other symptoms that indicate the person has a concussion.
Common symptoms are:
- It may seem minor at first, but it gets worse and just will not go away.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Restlessness, dizziness, or balance problems.
- Sensitivity to light and noise.
- Feeling tired and sad.
- Cannot remember what happened just before or just after the injury.
- Experiences personality changes.
- Forgets instructions.
- Has trouble concentrating or seems confused.
- has trouble falling asleep, sleeping enough, or sleeping too much.
- Experiences drowsiness.
- Difficulty or inability to wake up.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Seizure or seizures.
There are times when the person who suffers a concussion in football seems unaware of the injury, but others can observe the athlete is suffering from these signs and symptoms and know there is a problem.
One major problem that occurs is that after an impact, players may immediately feel something is just not right, they may even have symptoms of a concussion, but they do not want anyone to know how they are feeling. They want to stay in the game. They do not want to let their team members down by not playing, so they say, “I’m okay.”
Athletes who have experienced one concussion have a greater chance of getting another one. Subsequent concussions can lead to more severe symptoms and generally have a longer recovery period.
A subconcussive impact is what it sounds like: an impact to the head or body that appears strong enough to jar the brain around but apparently, the shake was not violent enough to damage brain cells to a degree that they do not function properly. The person who suffered the impact has no symptoms. Others do not observe any signs indicating the person has suffered a TBI.
The strength of the impact is not correlated with whether a concussion occurs or not. Each person’s brain reacts differently. What causes one to have a concussion may not cause another athlete to be afflicted even if the impact is of the same strength.
Research studies are ongoing about the long-term neurological effects of subconcussive impacts. Scientists use devices mounted on helmets that keep track of how many hits a player takes over a period of time, how hard the hits are, and how much the athlete rests between hits. Players who suffer a concussion are removed from play.
Athletes who suffer no hits are compared to those who have experienced a lot of hits. Several studies show a correlation between repeated subconcussive impacts and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These athletes do worse on memory and attention tests.
CTE has been associated with concussions and subconcussive injuries. Current studies provide strong evidence that athletes who suffer repeated subconcussive impacts are more likely to develop CTE than someone who has had a concussion. There have been some athletes diagnosed with CTE who, it appears, have never had a concussion, but suffered from subconcussive impacts.