The recent findings that former NFL star Junior Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated hits to the head, has football under a microscope again.
It appears likely the sport is about to get its bell rung, which ironically is a term despised by Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Neurological Surgery Chairman Edward Benzel, M.D., who is helping create national guidelines as part of the newly formed Pediatric Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Guideline Workgroup.
“We are at a crisis mode,” Benzel told VOXXI, adding:
“It’s important and in reality the guidelines probably aren’t going to tell us a lot but they’re going to keep everybody aware. Of course, it’s not good to hit your head. We know that there are some football players who have died from head and brain injuries that have been caused by on-field injury. Having said that, I think a corollary of that is, is there an accumulative effect of repetitive, apparently non-significant injury on the brain? Although I can’t prove that, I think we’re seeing increasing anecdotal and clinical evidence that supports the notion that there is an accumulative effect that seems to progress after the trauma stops in some cases.”
Purdue Biomedical Engineering Professor Eric Nauman has studied the impact of brain injuries on high school football players.
“Right now, nobody can demonstrate a direct link between repetitive head trauma and things like CTE because it would take 30 years and a huge cohort of subjects,” Nauman told VOXXI. “What we can say is that head impacts cause substantial and long-term changes in neurophysiology even in the absence of a diagnosed concussion. Between our work and the work of others, there is strong evidence that too many head impacts lead to an increased risk of neurotrauma.”
Brain injuries and football: Are our children at risk?
Naturally the long-term discussion revolves around college and professional athletes, but what about the risk of brain injuries for children and teenagers participating in tackle football? Benzel said a recent study indicated between four and 4.5 million children in the United States play the sport annually.
Benzel added that the harmful effects from gridiron concussions in recent years has led to plenty of parents deciding whether the reward is worth the risk for their youngster. More and more moms and dads, or players, are deciding against playing football with recent participation numbers revealing a 15 to 20 percent decrease.
Said Nauman, “I think that young athletes are at an increased risk [of brain injuries] because their brains are still developing and it is extremely important to limit the number and severity of head impacts.”
As for the national course of action, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has charged the panel with developing clinical diagnosis and management guidelines for acute mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including concussion, with guidelines expected by spring 2014.
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