Using Their Heads: New Study of Athletes and Concussions

by John McKiggan

As a lawyer who deals with personal injury claims, I frequently encounter clients who have suffered some form of brain injury.

In cases of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury the cause is almost always some form of concussion. The effects of concussions can be lasting, particularly in circumstances of repeat impact.

Athletes At Increased Risk

I have been seeing more and more cases of athletes that have suffered concussions (and serious resulting difficulties) as a result of sports related concussions.

That’s why a recent article in Science Daily discussing new research on concussions caught my attention. The new study was published by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers outfitted athlete’s helmets with Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) technology to measure impacts.

The goal was to help physicians accurately diagnose the signs and symptoms of concussions and identify which factors were most important in predicting the patients long term recovery.

Researchers found that there are still some difficulties in assessing and properly diagnosing concussions. The article notes:

“The variety of signs and symptoms, the imprecise timing of symptom appearance and relationship to a specific contact event, the lack of externally observed findings, and the broad ranges of the linear and angular accelerations of the impacts that coalesce in a diagnosis of concussion in college sports make it difficult to identify predictors of acute, intermediate, and long-term risks of adverse consequences resulting from sports-related head impacts.”

Concussions Still Not Being Identified

Sports related concussions have been receiving a great deal of attention in the media over the last couple of years.

There have been new advances in concussion testing that helps protect athletes. That’s why one finding from the study caused me concern; the researchers found that a large percentage of concussions are still not properly identified until a substantial amount of time has passed (approximately 50% of the time the symptoms were not immediately noticed).

Delay is Dangerous

Considering the importance of immediately removing an athlete from play after they have experienced a concussion, the delayed diagnoses can cause serious problems.

In a previous article Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sport I highlighted some of the issues with repeat concussions and the gravity of the consequences.

Complicated Issue

The conclusion by the researchers was that there is still a long way to go with respect to understanding concussions. They worry that the current approach might oversimplify the complicated reality.

What Does the Future Hold?

It doesn’t require much stretching of the imagination to envision these types of studies leading to changes in sporting equipment, changes in the positioning of airbags in cars, recreational bicycle helmets, etc. Ultimately studies like this one will lead to a better understanding of the causes of concussions, which will help us all lead safer healthier lives.

Further Resources

Center for Disease Control: Concussion in Sports

Brain Matter: The Survivor’s Guide to Brain Injury Claims

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