Understanding Sports and Brain Injuries

Sports are a great way to get kids out of the house and away from their phones and computers. There are plenty of sports that are relatively safe and can help them stay healthy, like tennis or swimming. These are low impact, low risk sports that involve no contact between players.

There are some sports, like football, basketball, or wrestling, that come with higher physical risks. Players may endure occasional cuts, bruises and broken bones, but they are also putting themselves at risk for something much worse: Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).

While playing sports can improve your physical and emotional health, it is important to know the risks before you start playing. Any game that involves direct, bodily contact with other players can seriously injure you. Any play or tackle can lead to a collision between players. Even if everyone is wearing safety gear, the simple act of your head being struck or jolted can lead to serious, life-altering injuries and death.

 

What are TBIs?

The Mayo Clinic defines Traumatic Brain Injuries as complex injuries that “occur when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction.” These injuries are typically the result of a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. Penetration wounds can also cause TBIs.

TBIs are classified as either open or closed:

Open TBIs are the result of the skull being fractured or penetrated and are caused when the skull comes into direct contact with an object. They are frequently the result of blunt force trauma or falls.

Closed TBIs can be much more serious. Since the skull is not fractured, the brain absorbs and disperses the impact of the blow over itself. Players who suffer closed TBIs face a higher risk of swelling, bleeding, and death.

Whether open or closed, TBIs can be further broken down by the severity of the wound and the resulting symptoms:

Mild TBIs may not show up on an MRI. They often go undiagnosed unless the patient suffers a change in their cognitive abilities. Mild TBIs may be accompanied by a brief loss of consciousness or mild confusion.

Moderate TBIs are the middle of the road. Players who suffer a moderate TBI may have no permanent side effects or they may be disabled for life. Victims may lose consciousness for a few minutes to a few hours. They may also experience confusions for days or weeks and suffer permanent or temporary physical, mental, and behavioral changes.

Severe TBIs often result in lifelong side effects and can be fatal in many cases. They put the player at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as permanent physical, emotional, and mental disabilities.

Some of the most common TBIs seen in football are:

  • Concussions
  • Contusions
  • Coup-Contrecoup (cerebral contusions)
  • Diffuse Axonal (lesions on brain)
  • Penetrating injuries

Head and Brain Injury Statistics

You know that sports can be dangerous, but what do the facts say? Children and adults alike can suffer catastrophic injuries on the field. Football isn’t the only game that can cause serious damage to the brain. In 2009, the top 10 sports and recreational activities responsible for sending players to the emergency room with head trauma were, in order:

  • Cycling, at 85,389 head injuries
  • Football, at 46,948
  • Baseball/Softball, at 38,394
  • Basketball, at 34,692
  • Water Sports, at 28,716
  • Powered Recreational Vehicles, at 26,606
  • Soccer, at 24,184
  • Skateboards/Scooters, at 23,114
  • Fitness/Exercise Activities, at 18,012
  • Winter Sports, at 16,948

Between 2001 and 2010, TBI related emergency room visits increased by 70%. In 2010 alone, there were 2.5 million emergency room visits and hospitalizations associated with TBIs, resulting in over 50,000 deaths. The data doesn’t stop there. Below are some additional statistics regarding sports-related TBIs, specifically those seen in football:

  • Most catastrophic injuries endured in football occur during games, not practices.
  • Tackling and blocking are the top two causes of catastrophic brain and spinal cord injuries for football players.
  • Tackling is responsible for 67% of all catastrophic football injuries since 1977.
  • A majority of these injuries occur when playing defense.
  • Multiple concussions increase the chances of permanent neurologic disabilities by 39%.
  • High school football accounts for 47% of all reports sports concussions.
  • 90% of concussions don’t result in the player losing consciousness
  • 1 out of every 5 high school athletes will endure a concussion during their sports season.
  • 33% of the athletes who sustain concussions will have multiple concussions in the same year.

Common Signs of Head and Brain Injuries

Yes, sports can be dangerous, but that isn’t necessarily a reason not to play them. If you or your kids engage in recreational sports, especially those that involve physical contact with other players, be careful. Taking unnecessary risks to score or improve your personal stats just isn’t worth it.

If you have suffered a sports injury, it’s important to know and be aware of the signs of TBIs. While you shouldn’t try to self-diagnose, knowing what to look for can give you a clear indicator of when you may need to visit the emergency room or make an appointment to see your doctor.

Some signs of head and brain injuries include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Trouble seeing or blurred vision
  • Personality changes or extreme irritability
  • Coma or loss of consciousness
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, chronic sleepiness, or an inability to wake up
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness or balance issues
  • Ringing ears
  • Changes in the ability to smell and taste normally
  • Light/sound sensitivity
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or numbness in digits and limbs
  • Slurred speech

Because it can be difficult for children to communicate effectively, it is easy for brain injuries in children to go unnoticed. If your child suffered a sports injury and is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, call your doctor or visit the emergency room right away:

  • A change in eating habits or preferences
  • They are unusually moody or irritable
  • They cry more than normal and are unable to be calmed
  • You’ve noticed a change in their concentration levels
  • They appear chronically sad or depressed
  • Their sleep habits have changed
  • They are no longer interested in their favorite toys or activities

 

What is CTE?

One of the biggest concerns with a traumatic brain injury, is the potential for the player to develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that affects individuals who suffered multiple TBIs and head injuries.

Someone with CTE will experience diminished brain function over time. Some parts of the brain may lose mass, while others may become swollen. Scientists believe CTE is caused by an excess of tau protein. The buildup of this protein causes severe side effects, like memory loss, an inability to control anger/rage, and substantially impaired judgment.

Until very recently, the only way doctors could diagnose CTE is through an autopsy. Thankfully, scientists have discovered a molecule called T807 that may make it possible for doctors to scan the brain and search for abnormal amounts of tau protein. In 2017, doctors in New York City will begin a $16 million, 7 year-study on CTE that will evaluate 120 former NFL players as well as 60 former college football players. They hope this will help them find a way, not only to detect CTE before it kills its victims, but to slow or stop its progression entirely.

 

Compensation for Sports-Related Head Injuries

Although taking risks is a part of playing sports, situations do occur where brain injuries and wrongful death may be attributed to the poor judgment or negligence of:

  • Coaches
  • Equipment manufacturers
  • Equipment retailers
  • Emergency room workers

If you suspect that you or your child have suffered a head injury, stop playing immediately until you can be evaluated by a medical professional. Not every brain injury is accompanied by a loss of consciousness. Symptoms may be apparent right away or they may not show up for days or weeks.

Brain and head injuries are not something to mess around with. It’s always better to see a doctor right away than to wait until it’s too late. Preventative medical care is the best chance you have at avoiding further injury or death.

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, please don’t hesitate to contact the experienced brain injury lawyers in Madison, Wisconsin at Boller & Vaughan. Call now to schedule a free consultation, at 608-268-0268.