Friday, January 21, 2011

What Athletes Show Know About Contact Sports and Brain Injury

In this post by Michael Powers, a graduate student at Boston University and former football player for the University of Pennsylvania, read what athletes should know about contact sports and brain injury.

Many of you may have seen the news about dementia in athletes who played contact sports. The condition gaining most of the attention is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). For those of you who play contact sports such as football, soccer, lacrosse or hockey, hearing repeated stories of athletes developing dementia can be frightening.

After playing college football and taking thousands of hits to the head, I am very concerned about my health and the health of my teammates. The recent news of a college player suffering from brain damage hit particularly close to home because we played for the same school.

The best way to deal with this sort of fear is to educate oneself, which is why I have done extensive research on the subject. I wanted to find out the truth about dementia in athletes and share it with other athletes.

Here are the key facts that I have found:

1. Although certain types of brain changes, called neurofibrillary tangles, have been described in some athletes, there is no conclusive evidence that playing contact sports, even boxing, increases your overall risk of developing dementia.

2. There is no conclusive data to firmly show that contact sports cause CTE because the number of examined brains is small. In many of the athletes with CTE had other risk factors for dementia, such as blood vessel disease.

3. Concussions are dangerous and should be taken seriously. Repeated concussions can do serious long-term damage to your brain.

I do not want to minimize the significance of brain trauma in sports; rather, I want to emphasize the known risk of concussions. Many concussions in sports go unreported because athletes feel pressured, often by their own sense of loyalty to the team, to play through the pain. However, playing through a concussion may be dangerous because concussions may cause temporary chemical changes in the brain that make it susceptible to permanent damage.

I encourage you and your family to read the information on the AFA Teens Web Site about how athletes can protect themselves from sports-related head injuries.

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