Superbowl Weekend and Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury

superbowl-trophyIt’s Superbowl weekend again, time for chips, dips, and brain injuries. Some will occur on the field, and others just from drinking too much and falling down.

We see a lot of head injury patients in the ER, many of them kids who play sports. The question always comes up, “when can he play football again?” Unfortunately, the answer is complicated. There are guidelines or course, and different systems for classification of concussion. Just about everyone agrees that patients should not return to sports until symptoms are gone (no headache, dizziness, amnesia, etc.).
However, many parents don’t seem aware of the fact that repeated head injury can cause permanent problems. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (brain damage due to trauma) is frighteningly common in athletes who have a lot of head injuries. A recent study examined the brains of dead NFL players and found an alarming amount of brain damage, beyond what you would expect for age.
In boxers, brain damage due to repeated blows to the head is well known (dementia pugilistica). Famous examples of brain damage due to frequent head injuries include boxers Floyd Patterson, and Sugar Ray Robinson. By the way, Muhammed Ali didn’t have dementia pugilistica, just plain old Parkinsons disease. There have been 3 NFL players diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy–Justin Strzelczyk who died in a car crash after a nervous breakdown, and Andre Waters and Terry Long who both committed suicide.

So if the question is, when can my kid play football again with no risk of permanent brain injury?

I’m afraid the answer is: never.

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