Concussion – The Movie
Based on a true story, the 2015 film, Concussion is centred around the prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) amongst NFL athletes. Will Smith portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist who discovers that many former players have developed severe long-lasting brain damage post-retirement, leading them to suffer from problems such as memory loss, aggression, and increased suicide rates. As he brings this information to light, he is faced with heavy opposition from the NFL.
While both concussions and CTEs are brain injuries, they are completely different conditions.
Concussion – The Injury
A concussion is an acute traumatic brain injury that causes deficits in the brain’s function. There are a wide range of symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, memory loss, and mood swings. Severe concussions can cause bleeding in the brain, leading to further and prolonged complications. They can be diagnosed through questionnaires, physical and cognitive assessments as well as medical imaging (MRI’s, CT scans) to assess the extent of the head injury; vision, hearing, coordination, balance and cognitive function (memory, attention, information processing, etc.). Fortunately, the effects of concussions are usually temporary and can be improved with physical and cognitive rehabilitation.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalography (CTE)
CTE is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is associated with repetitive trauma to the head. Did you know that it is particularly prominent amongst athletes that participate in contact sports, such as football and boxing? Some researchers believe that subconcussive blows may be a crucial risk factor for developing CTE. Although individually they are less severe than a full-on concussion, with repetitive trauma there may be an accumulative effect leading to permanent neurological damage in later life. In recent years there has been a greater understanding towards concussion protocols, especially those in place for athletes (i.e. returning to sport only after being medically cleared). Unfortunately, no such rules exist for non-concussive blows. Players are symptom-free and able to continue to play without any restrictions which in the long-term puts them at a greater risk of CTE.
As more retired football players develop CTE, it is slowly becoming a prominent issue that can no longer be ignored by the NFL. Unfortunately, repetitive head trauma is difficult to avoid due to the innate nature of the sport. One proposed suggestion is to eliminate helmets altogether. Although this may seem counterintuitive, players could potentially be more aware of how vulnerable they are, and thus take extra caution in protecting their heads while tackling to minimize brain injury. What do you think? At painPRO, we will be watching developments in concussion and CTE research closely.