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Debunking Six Recent Concussion Myths

 

With all the recent media attention on head injuries in football and CTE, sometimes the record needs to be set straight. Here are six recent concussion myths that need to be debunked:  

Myth #1: The risk of developing CTE is the same for the average high school athlete in a contact or collision sport  as it is for former professional football players.  

Fact:  There is little to no evidence that the risks are the same. The few studies that have been conducted so far suggest that those who stop playing contact sports after high school are not at significant risk of developing CTE or other age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, ALS, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  The fact that clinicians are not seeing an epidemic of men in their early 50's with early Alzheimer's because they played high school football, and that most of the cases of CTE, and studies finding more subtle brain damage from repetitive subconcussive impacts involve professional athletes and those who have played a sport for a long time, suggest that high school athletes are not exposed to the same level of risk.

Myth #2: Every athlete who suffers a concussion playing sports is at risk of long-term brain damage.

Fact: Again, we simply don't know. The evidence so far suggests that most athletes who sustain one or two concussions over their high school careers are not at significant risk of suffering long-term brain damage. As long as the concussions are properly managed (which includes getting cognitive and physical rest, not returning to play until the brain is fully healed), chances are that they will not have a problem that will effect them their later in life.

Myth #3: Computerized neurocognitive testing is used to diagnose concussions

Fact: Most experts agree that neurocognitive testing should only be used to evaluate already concussed athletes to determine their readiness to return to play, and, even then, as only one factor in the RTP decision.

Myth #4: There is very little or nothing that can be done to make football safer.

Fact: While there is no simple way to meet the challenges that concussions pose in football, there are measures that can be taken now which can make the sport safer through adoption of a comprehensive concussion risk management program. 

Myth #5: The only treatment available for those suffering from post-concussion syndrome (symptoms which last for more than a couple of weeks) is rest.

Fact: A number of innovative new therapies are being used to treat PCS.  Chiropractic neurology, craniosacral therapy, use of the Feldenkraus method, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Amantadine, vestibular rehabilitation therapy, even good old fashioned Epsom Salts all shown to work in some patients.

Whatever therapies parents consider for a child with post-concussion syndrome, they need to weigh the potential risks and adverse effects against the likelihood of benefit, and whether they are tailored to address the athlete's most bothersome symptoms, says William P. Meehan, III, MomsTeam's concussion expert and Director of the Sports Concussion Clinic in the Division of Sports Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital. In addition, says Dr. Meehan, athletes engaging in these potential therapies should be closely monitored by a clinician experienced in the assessment and management of sport-related concussions or concussive brain injuries in general.

Myth #6:  The best way to increase the rate at which athletes report concussion symptoms is to educate them about those symptoms.

Fact:  It doesn't appear that this is the case. A number of recent studies suggests that most athletes, even if they know the signs and symptoms of concussion, don't report them, and that a number of different approaches may be needed to increase the rate at which concussions are identified on the sports sideline, including the use of impact sensors, and by creating an environment in which athletes are encouraged to report symptoms and feel that they will not suffer negative repercussions if they do. 

 

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Aroldis Chapman

Another point that many should consider is that the occurrence of concussions is a very inexact science. Cincinnati Reds baseball pitcher took a ball off his head (he pitches, so no helmet), fractured eye socket, mild concussion, but amazingly no other ill effects. He's began running and throwing about 3 weeks since this happened. We are going nuts about football player WITH helmets on and you've got a guy who took a batted ball off the head about as badly as you can, and he got a mild concussion. Point is this isn't an exact science.