Avoiding Long Term Consequences of Repeated Head Trauma
The long-term consequences of repeated head trauma are only now being fully realized. Witness the February 17, 2011 suicide of Dave Duerson, a retired Chicago Bears defensive back. Prior to his death, Duerson believed that he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease likely caused by repeated head trauma. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is linked to depression, dementia and occasional suicide among more than a dozen deceased NFL players, according to the New York Times. Prior to shooting himself in the chest, Duerson sent family members text messages asking that his brain tissue be examined post mortem for the condition.
Former NFL players like Duerson did not benefit from the recent heightened awareness around the seriousness of concussive brain injuries. Players often complained of “having their bell rung,” but if they were not rendered unconscious, they may not have received appropriate treatment for the injury.
“One of the greatest fallacies is that a concussion only occurs after loss of consciousness,” said Dr. William Heinz, a concussion management and sports medicine specialist at OA Centers for Orthopaeidcs. “In reality loss of consciousness occurs in less than 10% of all concussions.” As a result, a significant number of concussions still go undiagnosed, resulting in the potential for longer-term problems to develop in our younger athletes.
Physical and Cognitive Rest Required to Avoid Long Term Concussion Problems
Recovering from a concussion requires both physical and cognitive rest. And while keeping a high school player off the field is one thing, asking them to rest their brains is another. Cognitive recover protocols include refraining from activities that are taxing on the brain, such as computer work, texting and driving.
“With physiological and cognitive testing, we are able to determine when an athlete can go back to school as well as return to the field,” said Dr. Heinz, a concussion expert. “If a young athlete tries to push through symptoms, that athlete risks prolonging the injury with the potential for longer term problems and second impact syndrome, a condition in which the brain swells rapidly and catastrophically after a person suffers a second concussion before effects from an earlier one have subsided.”