NFL: The Season's Over, But What About the Concussions?

A recent article on MedPage Today detailed new actions that the NFL is taking to better protect football players from concussions and brain injuries. So, what’s new?

1. Concussed players are being kept off of the field for longer periods of time. In the past, it was common for players to be sent back into games as long as they hadn’t lost consciousness. Current protocol is that players with a suspected concussion are taken out of a game, evaluated by the team “staff” (I’m assuming this is a physician) and an independent medical consultant (again, I’m assuming this is another physician).

2. Experts are learning that concussion symptoms are more subtle than first thought. And, effects of a concussion on the brain can last for days, up to weeks, afterwards.

3. Changes have been made to the game and practices. The kick-off has been moved to the 35 yard line, “four-man wedges” are no longer allowed, and most importantly, full-contact hitting has been reduced to less than once a week. This is a lower (official?) hitting rate than other levels of football –college, high school or youth.

4. Experts agree that more still needs to be done. Robert C. Cantu, MD, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and an adviser to the NFL on this topic, said that probably 80% of mild concussions are missed on the sidelines, because often, so much is going on during a game and players are good at disguising symptoms and not taking them seriously. In addition to doing more to catch mild concussions better, Cantu recommends that purposeful head-hits be banned. Others suggest that more focus be given on reducing the “smaller,” much more repetitive, subconcussive hits, because it is believed that these hits add-up to create significant head trauma over time –though this officially needs to be studied, like many of these concussion-related issues. And, many would like to see that concussion evaluations be made more objective and include measuring and documenting things like, S100B levels, which indicate if the blood-brain barrier has been compromised.

See the article for additional details and information about a concussion app that is in the works to keep tabs on each player, his number of concussions, and other brain-trauma-related data to help measure the overall impact a player has suffered over his career.

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