Funny how much things can change in 10 years. What is a complete no-brainer today — immediate removal from games or activities, strict guidelines on when players can return, and sophisticated technology to measure damage and help determine what can be done for treatment — didn’t even exist when I suffered my second serious concussion roughly a decade ago. But maybe the biggest shift is in attitudes.
I was reminded of this as I read a story in this week’s Denver Post about how to handle concussions, especially where kids are concerned. Most experts think concussions are extra bad for kids whose brains are growing and who take longer to recover. One interesting thing that was noted in the article was that rather than working the brain after a traumatic event — think working out a muscle or leg to strengthen it after it heals from a tear or break — the best thing you can do is rest your brain. Don’t tax it by doing anything complicated or mentally strenuous, and of course avoid doing anything that could instigate further contact. That last piece is a given, but I really would’ve liked to know about that first part when I was trying to battle back, a battle that still goes on to some extent 10 years later.
Decision-makers are growing wiser to these dangers though, dangers brought to light by numerous high-profile suicides being committed by prominent football players. Though many doctors will tell you they still don’t really know what’s going on in the brain after a concussion, at least some research is starting to come together. One conducted by researchers from the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences made the case for reducing contact drills for youth football players. The study, which was published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, showed that these young opponents on the gridiron are not more vulnerable to head hits in games if they take part in less contact during practice. (The thought previously was that these kids needed to be “taught” how to hit properly to learn how to take contact.) What could come of this is less overall hits if practices are limited, a smart step forward for developing brains and concussions overall, which show cumulative effects after repeated trauma.
It’s this trauma specifically that doctors and sports personnel are looking to measure. What if there was a way to definitively tell if someone got a concussion? If they should come out of the big game or they’re okay to stay in? Well, that is the goal of researchers at University of Nebraska’s Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3), which was slated to open this past month. Led by Dr. Dennis Molfese, director of CB3, the center hopes to be at the forefront of concussion research. One of their main attractions will be a functional MRI, which tracks the brain’s blood flow. But it’s the product they’re hoping to put the finishing touches on that would be a game changer.
Picture a vicious hit in a game, the player slowly getting up, wobbly, shuffling off the field. Now instead of the trainer holding up a finger or two to measure how badly this player’s bell was rung, imagine an electrode-covered mesh cap that would slip over their head. This battery-powered apparatus would basically measure brainwaves, recording the noggin’s response to various stimuli. It would show if the brain is processing at normal speeds or if it’s compromised. If the results are okay, you’re back in the game. If not, time to go rest that precious brain of yours.
Welcome to the future of sports. Even if it was a little slow in getting here …
Check in next week for an article on exercise and the brain and what’s being done here in Colorado around this relationship.
- Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado
- Sports Concussion Center of Colorado
- Rocky Mountain Youths Sports Medicine Institute
- Children’s Hospital Colorado
- How to Handle a Concussion
- Concussion Study Makes Case for Reducing Contact Drills for Youth Players
- New Nebraska Research Center to Study Concussions