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Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in Sports

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Being Active

Exercise is a key component in living a long and healthy lifestyle and should be implemented in everybody’s daily routine. Physical activity is great for a person’s body and mind. Sports are not only great for your health, but they also work on team building and personal development. Playing sports has so many benefits, yet there are some serious risks individuals open themselves up to when playing. The countless physical injuries are publicized openly, yet we do not see a lot of emphasis on the mental injuries side of things. There are a ton of muscle prevention exercises and resources (like ACL [Anterior Cruciate Ligament] and MCL [Medial Collateral Ligament] prevention), while there is not really any TBI prevention and resources, besides the generic concussion testing and the solution of rest. So, the question is how does a person prevent Traumatic Brain Injuries while in sports? 

Changing the Game  

The answer is not very clear. To completely prevent TBIs from ever occurring in sports is almost impossible without fundamentally changing the sport itself. If soccer completely removed heading and jumping for the ball or being able to use your arms against opponents, then the game of soccer would more or less resemble foosball. If American Football removed any of the contact aspects, there would most likely be no NFL. Changing the game itself is out of the picture, so what else could a person do to prevent TBIs? 

 

Picture of Foosball Table.                                                                     Photo source here.

New Rules

The first thing people could do to help prevent TBIs now and in the future would be to limit the physical contact a child has until the age of 12 in sports. It has been shown that suffering hits to the head before the brain is developed can alter an individual’s mind (the way they think and act). Human brains do not fully develop until around 20-25 years of age, so preventing athletes from any physical contact until then is likely impossible. If that were the case then high school and college sports would not be a thing, and even professional leagues would not be possible. Therefore, prevention from contact until individuals are more developed is the next best step. 

 Graphic describing at what age an individual’s brain matures.

For Soccer players there are a variety of ways to sustain concussions. This can include:

  1. Improper heading techniques
  1. Head-to-head collisions
  1. Arm-to-head collisions
  1. Collisions with other players
  1. Foot-to-head contact

-from slide tackling

-from high kicks

To combat the multitude of ways players can sustain concussions, Youth Soccer in America has implemented a rule that no child is allowed to head the ball in practice or competition until they are playing in the Under-12 years of age division (until individuals are 12 years of age or older). Even in practice, each U12 player is only allowed to head the ball no more than 25 times per week. Although it may seem insignificant, this rule prevents the likelihood of concussions down the line. Another effort on the end of Youth Soccer in America is providing the choice to players to wear special headbands/helmets to decrease the risk of obtaining concussions in-game.

 Examples of concussion helmets and headbands.

Sadly, there is no rule like this for American Football. Youth Football is plagued with improper tackling techniques, helmet-to-helmet collisions, dangerous running plays, and scary falls that all can result in serious concussions or physical injury. With all the concussion and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head and repeated concussions) studies coming out there should be more prevention action at a younger age to protect these kids whose brains are in the critical development stage. The current number of football players who have concussions and develop CTE later down the road is staggering. One possible change would be to have players U12 and under only playing and practicing flag football. They don’t necessarily have to change the field size or the contact rule (being able to push or block, etc.), they would just be taking away tackling until players have matured physically and mentally. Also, having players wearing those same protective headbands/helmets to further decrease the chances of injury.

Now it is not like there are no efforts in Football at all, in fact, that is quite the opposite. With new helmet designs and padding coming out each year that are statistically proven to decrease the likelihood of concussions and other brain injuries, football is becoming ever so slightly safer.

       Modern-day Football helmet safety design.                      Soft helmet head guard to combat possible concussions.

  The evolution of Football helmet safety throughout the years.

 For All Sports

Individuals, no matter what sport they play, can reduce, and possibly prevent TBIs if they are careful and follow some of the listed prevention strategies. Here are some strategies provided by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: 

  1. Avoid head-to-head, arm-to-head, foot-to-head collisions with other athletes 
  1. Wear the right protective equipment for your sport

-mouthguard, shin guards, kneepads, helmets, eye gear, etc.

-should fit properly, be worn consistently and correctly, and be well maintained

  1. All individuals should follow rules of regulation and fair play

-properly enforced by referees and coaches if applicable

  1. If an individual exhibits any symptoms of TBI, take them out of the game and have them see a proper physician.

 Photo source here.

The Unpredictable

Although the steps above can significantly lower the risk of sustaining a TBI-related injury, you are never 100% safe. Like all things in life, accidents can happen. No matter how careful an individual is, injuries are unpredictable. For example, look at Donald Parham Jr., a tight end for the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL, and the injury he suffered during the latter end of the 2021-2022 NFL season. During a 4th down drive, Parham ran a route and ended up diving to catch the ball in the endzone. Nobody was even close to touching him while he caught the ball. For a moment Parham had control of the ball as he was coming out of the air, but as soon as he hit the ground, he lost it. As he was coming down Parham hit his head with such force that it rendered him unconscious, leaving his body completely frozen (almost as if he was paralyzed). He laid there for several minutes until finally being wheeled off while strapped into a stretcher. The next day it was revealed that he suffered a head injury and was released from the hospital after undergoing rigorous testing. Donald Parham Jr. is only 24 years old. His brain has not fully developed yet. He has taken countless tumbles exactly like this one, so falling was of no concern for a player like him. Yet, this one time he hit the ground he suffered a major head injury.   Donald Parham in a paralyzed position.                    Donald Parham Jr. being carried off in a stretcher.

Introducing Sallie®

Nobody knows when a freak accident can happen, but there are certain steps to help individuals properly recover and get back to their old selves. These steps include seeing a certified physician, getting a proper diagnosis, tracking any symptoms, and being kind to your body and mind. All of these can be achieved with the help of Sallie® from Power of Patients. Sallie® aims to assist individuals, by being an incredibly easy to use, and free, symptom tracking dashboard. The robust data collection approach includes a multitude of symptoms for our users to track. By using Sallie®, individuals are taking the necessary steps for care and further prevention of Traumatic Brain Injuries. Whether or not you are involved in a sport and are dealing with any type of brain injury just know that Power of Patient’s Sallie® is made for you.

Register for Sallie® here!