Since the dawn of humanity, man has been bumping his head and saying #}<%€£¥!”‘=*^#\| OUCH! And in most cases, after the ” stars” stop swirling, and the “bells” stop ringing, life continues as before…………or does it?
Today like never before, the conversation about our brains and damage caused by those ” bumps” is rising to a whole new level. And thank goodness! As human beings, as parents, as grandparents, we now have an opportunity to learn what we didn’t know before. Because it’s a whole new ballgame…in every sense of the word! Yes it’s a great time for brain damage! Because the light is finally beginning to shine on the problem. And it is dead serious.
Bottom line first…multiple hits to the head can destroy your brain. (AKA your life)
The brain is suspended in fluid and when the head received sudden impact or sudden movement, the brain sloshes around in there and often strikes the skull wall. The inner skull surface is not smooth. Rather it is rough, and on impact may cause damage to the soft brain tissue, blood vessels, and cells. This is not new information. We have known this for over a hundred years. We just didn’t pay attention.
In the early 20th century doctors noticed a link to repeated brain trauma and behavioral & cognitive changes in boxers. In 1940 it was given a name, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE. The symptoms included childish behavior, depression, paranoia, violent outburst, confabulation, disinhibition and memory problems.
And these same doctors and others warned of the same problem in American footballers. The term “stumble-backs” and “stumble-bums” was given to players exhibiting vagrancy, dementia, and motor issues years after playing tackle football as early as 1937.
So what is new? We are now in a cognitive revolution about the brain and how it reacts to repeated hits. This is due in large part o the scientific discoveries of neuropathologist, Bennet Omalu, linking CTE definitively to National Football League, NFL, players in 2005. He believes it is not concussions causing damage in the brains of athletes, but rather the never ending sub-concussive blows to the head. Subsequently more and more famous football heroes have been discovered to have the disease. Sadly, now it is even being discovered in college, high school, and youth tackle football players.
And we are realizing that tackle football is not alone. If repeated hits that cause CTE can occur in football and boxing, any sport or activity that has inherent repeated hits to the brain may cause CTE. It is being diagnosed in hockey, soccer, rugby, wrestling, etc. In fact the Mayo Clinic did a study that identified the disease in 32% of the population of amateur athletes involved in contact type sports. And it is also being discovered in our military veterans that have been subjected to blasting exercises and combat duty.
This cognitive revolution was super-charged by the movie, “Concussion”, starring Will Smith. The stories are sad ones and CTE has destroyed the lives and families of many. The NFL continues to obfuscate and cloud the connection between CTE and collision sports. And CTE is still happening. Millions of children are at risk by playing games that involve sub-concussion blows to the brain. 32% of a million is a lot. Since the movie, doctors and brain injury groups have been inundated with calls from people thinking they have CTE. And sadly, they probably do.
So what does all of this have to do with you? Let’s look at it this way. Chances are if you sent your child up the street to play at a friends house and he/she came home and told you they had a headache from being hit in the head by that friend, you may very well march over there and straighten things out that day. And who would blame you? Yet we drop our kids off at Hockey, Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, etc. practices and games, where they are getting hit in the head is an integral part of the game. Getting ones ” bell rung” is just part of what you do. Macho kids just shake it off. Play through the pain! Show they are tough. But what we’ve learned is these sub-concussive blows to the head add up. The damage caused by these hits is cumulative. And we have also learned that the earlier in life children begin ” hitting”, the greater the chance for damage.
The arguments for continuing these types of activities in their current form are often compelling, but a child’s brain is not something to be taken lightly. We can’t afford to play Russian roulette with a child’s brain, because it is unable to fully repair itself. Youth Soccer has removed “heading” from the game. Youth Hockey has removed ” checking”. Football needs to institute Flag, until 14, at the very least. Now the information is out there. Now we need to pay attention to it. Now we just need to protect those precious brains. Now is a great day to start.
Doug and Karen Zegel, Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation, StopCTE.org