Editorial: The danger of concussions


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College athletes must always deal with the competing demands of sport and academia, making sure their performance doesn’t slip in either to continue playing. In high-contact sports such as football, an injury such as a concussion could represent a threat to both.

Concussions among athletes, especially college football players, are cause for concern. The prominence of concussions in recent years has brought more attention to the issue. In November 2013, three former college football players filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, charging that the organization failed to inform athletes about the risks of concussions in football and didn’t establish protocols to treat resulting brain injuries. The lawsuit joins nearly a dozen others consolidated against the NCAA alleging the lack of concussion information.

According to the NCAA’s Injury Surveillance Program, there are approximately 4,000 concussions per year throughout all levels of college football, and concussions account for 75 percent of injuries on or about the head.

Adding fuel to the fire, a study released Monday found the most popular football helmets may do little to protect from traumatic brain injuries caused by rotational force, or hits to the side of the head that cause it to rotate on the neck. The study from the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology found, on average, helmets reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury by only 20 percent.

Though most people that suffer concussions recover fully, the effects on the brain can last days, weeks, or longer. These effects include difficulty thinking clearly, headaches, dizziness, and problems remembering new information and concentrating. In addition, those who have had concussions in the past are more susceptible to one in the future, and the recovery process takes much longer, even leading to devastating degenerative brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

But the long-term consequences of concussions are potentially deadly. Traumatic brain injuries triple the risk of early death, according to a study that examined 218,300 patients who had them. Numerous such injuries also put victims at a higher risk for suicide, depression, and motor-skill problems.

It’s a serious risk for athletes to continue playing after a concussion, and new research from the University of Iowa could change the current approach to concussion prevention in college football.

The UI Sports Medicine Center will partner with Seattle-based X2 Biosystems, a science and technology data company, to study head blows among Hawkeye football players. The company will provide devices designed to measure the impact and location of hits to the head: patches the size of a quarter placed behind the ears. As many as 50 football players could participate in the program in coming seasons.

Research such as this is vitally important for college football players, many of whom may feel pressured not to report concussions because it could mean the end of their careers.

It’s apparent that the risk of traumatic brain injury among college football players is a problem not just for the athletes but the organization itself, as a class action lawsuit against the NFL has shown.

The league offered a $765 million settlement to pay for player’s medical treatments from concussions and other brain trauma, but that offer was rejected by a judge, who said the organization may need to pay more to cover more player’s injuries.

In light of this, the NCAA would be wise to take a serious look at the research to try to discover how these debilitating injuries can be prevented.

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