American Football and CTE

Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

American Football and CTE

Posted on: January 11th, 2016 by Isobel Addison No Comments

Following on from our previous blog American Football may ban helmets Reuters Health report that a U.S research report into a former college football player who sustained repeated hits to the head and showed signs of brain damage after his death may offer fresh clues about how concussions impact athletes.

The gentleman concerned began playing American Football at the age of 6 and suffered his first concussion aged 8 and suffering more than 10 concussions in all.

At age 24, neurological tests found he had memory and recall problems, speech and language impairment and difficulties remembering and reproducing line drawings.

After his death, researchers examined his medical records and his donated brain and agreed he had post-concussive syndrome with possible CTE and major depression.

The 25 year old died of a cardiac arrest related to an infection in his heart, but the autopsy showed signs of brain damage consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a traumatic brain disorder at can only be diagnosed during an autopsy.  It is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions.  CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920’s (when it was termed punch drunk syndrome or dementia pugilistica).  In recent years the disease has been found in other athletes, including football and hockey players, as well as in military veterans.  Repeated brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau.  The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidal tendencies, parkinsons, and eventually progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.

It is believed that other factors, such as genetics, may play a role in the development of CTE, as not everyone with a history of repeated brain trauma develops this disease, however, these other factors are not yet understood.

It is becoming more widely understood that CTE affects not only professional athletes but  that contact sports athletes at the amateur level are also at risk for the disease.

While this isn’t the first former football player to be diagnosed with CTE after years playing contact sports, this particular athlete had a series of psychological and cognitive tests before his death that offer some insight into how symptoms of CTE might develop, McKee and colleagues note in their report.

More research is needed however CTE should be considered in young athletes who have repeated head trauma as well as persistent mood and behavioral symptoms.

Such research might help us to understand progressive psychological conditions and conditions that would otherwise be considered early onset dementia and underline the importance of proper investigation into traumatic brain injury.

We regularly act for clients that have sustained traumatic head injuries and any research that helps us to anticipate any additional difficulties that they might face in later life will ensure that we can secure sufficient compensation for their future needs.

 

American football may ban helmets

Posted on: January 4th, 2016 by Isobel Addison 1 Comment

American football may ban helmets

Dr John York, chairman of the NFL’s health and safety advisory committee and co-chairman of the 49ers, tells the BBC that he can see a time without helmets.

“Can I see a time without helmets? Yes,” said Dr John York. “It’s not around the corner, but I can see it”.

There has been a growing cultural awareness of the issues surrounding concussion which has helped to bring the issue to the fore.

NFL players have been wearing the distinctive hard-shell helmets for 70 years.  American football players first started wearing head leather protection at the turn of the 20th century when skull fractures and neck injuries were a significant and sometimes fatal problem. In the 1940 hard plastic helmets entered the game with facemasks becoming commonplace in the early 1960s.

By the next decade, extra cushioning was added and all helmets had to meet minimum impact-resistance standards.   Although these developments were intended to improve safety,  they also emboldened players to make bigger hits, often using their helmets like battering rams.

Over the last 5 years the NFL has tried to reduce the risk of head injuries and recently reached an almost $1bn legal settlement with ex-players suffering with head trauma.

York says the NFL have invested in medical research and worked with manufacturers to improve helmets.  In 2012 they launched, “Heads Up Football” an education campaign targeted at ‘a safer and smarter way to play and teach youth football’.

Funded in part by the NFL Foundation, Heads Up Football is designed to change the culture around America’s favorite sport and enhance player safety at the youth level. It promotes coaching education, concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, proper equipment fitting and Heads Up Blocking and Tackling.

The USA Football’s Heads Up Football program focuses on eight key areas:

  • Coaching education:  All coaches within an organization or program are required to complete USA Football’s nationally accredited Coaching Certification Course, which trains them in important health and safety issues along with the game’s fundamentals.
  • Equipment Fitting: Particularly the proper fitting of the helmet and shoulder pads.
  • Concussion recognition and response: Employing Centres for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.
  • Heat preparedness and hydration: Establishing approved protocols from the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest: Having plans and procedures in place in case of cardiac events.
  • Heads Up Tackling: Teaching the fundamentals of this all-player skill in a safer way.
  • Heads Up Blocking: Teaching the fundamentals of contact for offensive players without the ball.
  • Player Safety Coach: Appointed by a school or organization, this individual ensures compliance with Heads Up Football player safety protocols, coach certification and continuing education with coaches, players and parents.

In 2013, the NFL and USA Football collaborated on Heads Up Moms Clinics to provide helpful information to moms who have children who are considering or play tackle football. The clinics included classroom instruction on proper equipment fitting, concussion awareness lectures and the heads up tackling technique as well as participating in on-field drills.

USA Football trainers, doctors and football moms join the event to discuss the topics on concussion awareness, proper football techniques and educating them overall about proper awareness when it comes to health in sports.

York claims that these actions have led to a 36% reduction in concussions over three years and a 52% fall in helmet-to-helmet impacts.

The chairman of the National Football League’s health and safety advisory commission believes American football could ban helmets in the future.

The idea of banning helmets has been raised by some doctors and ex-players in recent years without ever really being taken seriously. Some experts think helmets give the players a false sense of security.

She is believed by some that not wearing helmets would discourage players from leading with their heads when making tackles. Dr York explained that playing without helmets would require numerous rule changes, including doing away with the three-point stance and forcing players in an upright position at the start of each play.

Following a succession of tragic incidents involving former players struggling with depression, memory loss and mood swings the NFL appears to have accepted the link between head injuries and the type of neurological problems that only boxers were believed to encounter in later life and has introduced a raft of rule changes.

Kick-offs were moved further up the field to reduce the number of high-speed impacts and helmet-first tackles have been banned. More protection has also been given to players unable to protect themselves, such as quarterbacks in the act of throwing.

Each game now has at least 27 “health officials” on the sidelines, as well as an independent expert assessing television pictures to make sure injured players are taken off.

These changes have not been enough to stop two San Francisco 49ers from retiring early because of concerns about brain injuries.

Right tackle Anthony Davis announced in June 2015 that he would not play football in 2015 after missing four games the previous season following a concussion.  He released a statement saying “I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.”

Chris Borland was a rising star, with no history of concussions, who quit after just one season in the league. The 24-year-old linebacker feared his health could suffer from the long-term effects of concussion and walked away from a four-year deal worth a reported £2m.

So would a game without helmets be safer? We may see one day.