Consequence of concussions: the detrimental factors in football-related head injuries

HS Football

POSTED: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 5:12pm

UPDATED: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 11:17am

More than one million concussions and other forms of mild traumatic brain injuries are reported each year.  But it's the word 'mild' that has neurologists worries that concussions aren't always taken as seriously as they should be.

It's the scene that makes your heart stop--a player goes down on the field, and all you can do is hold your breath.  Injuries in football are all too common, especially head injuries, but it's the consequence of concussions that is often forgotten.

Only ten percent of concussions lead to a loss of consciousness, so just because an athlete doesn't black out after being hit in the head doesn't mean his injuries aren't severe.

"Although it does not look like it's a major injury, there are microscopic injuries that happen in the brain, so a concussion patient or a child needs to heal completely,"said Dr. Priti Manohar, a neurologist that works with head injuries in sports.

High school football players will do just about anything to play under the Friday night lights.  Dr. Manohar stresses that returning too soon could put an athlete at risk of getting another concussion shortly after their first one.

"If you have had a concussion, there is a high risk of a second concussion within the next few weeks," Dr. Manohar explained.  "So I make the parents aware that you need to be concerned about a second concussion, and a second concussion could be more detrimental and the patient would take more time to recover from a second concussion."

Concern for a second concussion stems from something called second impact syndrome (SIS), which is seen in athletes who have had more than one concussion.  This condition can result in severe brain disability, and according to some neurologists, SIS can also be deadly.

Education is proving to be a game changer when it comes to preventing head injuries on the field.  Athletic trainers realize they play a vital role in making sure their players note the dangerous consequences of concussions.

"What we try to do is we try to educate our students and try to tell them 'Hey, don't try to toughen it up, you know, come to us,'" said Bob Aparicio Jr., an athletic trainer at Mission High School.  "We basically make them feel comfortable so that if they have something like that, they'll be able to acknowledge that and we're hopefully able to take care of that problem."

"Kids, because of the education, if they take a hard hit and they're feeling dizzy, they're feeling all the symptoms, now they're like 'oh you know, can you check me out? I think I might have a concussion," said Natalie Coronado, an athletic trainer at Mercedes High School.

Mission High School is one of the few schools in the Valley that use special concussion reduction helmets for athletes who have a history of multiple concussions.  One of the features this helmet has is an occipital lock to protect the back of an athlete's head when he takes a backwards fall.  There's also an enhanced facial frame that protects the face and jaw, which is where a lot of concussions are actually sustained.  Additionally, the face mask bends to alleviate some of the pressure of a frontal impact.

"We have a young man that may be in football that has a history of a concussion, he'll get an upgraded helmet, a concussion modification helmet…reduction helmet," said Aparicio.  "We do give them special mouth pieces, and of course we take all the necessary steps to try to make sure those instances don't happen again.  But, of course you know with the nature of football, you can't predict those things."

In 2011, Texas passed House Bill 2038 which outlines how Texas schools handle concussions with student athletes.

Thanks to this legislation, the UIL, which governs athletics in schools, must follow strict regulations--this includes a return-to-play protocol that requires an athlete to be seen by a physician after sustaining a concussion.


"It is a contact sport and things are going to happen," said Dr. Mark Cousins, UIL Director of Athletics.  "I don't think there's any way to actually eliminate the risk of pretty much any activity in which a student participates, but we can continue to research to try to educate and make people aware, again so we can try to make the activities as safe as they can be."

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