Articles Posted in Concussions

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In a CDC report released in mid-March, the government organization revealed that the number of reported brain injuries has increased dramatically since 2007. Brain injuries have been frequently studied and reported on in the news and medical community, with brain injuries in professional athletes and youths taking center stage. In 2015, Will Smith starred as pathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu, who, after examining a deceased NFL player, discovers he had suffered from severe neurological trauma and disease. Dr. Omalu became the face and voice against football-related brain injuries after realizing many other former professional players suffered from the same symptoms. Also in 2015, the mother of a former youth athlete sued her son’s football program after he commit suicide and was found to have serious brain injuries resulting from repeated concussions.  Nevertheless, despite headlines about professional athletes and youth football players, the driving force behind this spike in brain injuries is surprisingly a result of the increasing occurrence of elderly falls.

Latest Statistics about Brain Injuries

The CDC found that suicide, suicide attempts, and falls were all contributors to the increase in traumatic brain injuries. The number of brain injuries as a result of car accidents has actually decreased in recent years.

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Any debate about whether the head injuries suffered by football players often leading to serious brain injuries have been a taboo subject amongst sports fanatics, until now. It’s a manly sport, and grown men can take it, or so it seems. However, there is growing concern for these players, once the lights on their celebrity status goes dim, what happens next; where do they go and what happens to them.

As today’s superheroes on the gridiron become washed up disabled citizens in our neighborhoods trying to come to terms with the “hows” and “whys” of their disabilities emerge from the shadows, we are beginning to understand that the end of the game is literally the end of the game for many of our football superstars. But now it is time for them to come out of the shadows, to make themselves known to their fans that rooted for their triumphs, and to let their fans understand the price that was paid.
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Even though the debate both in and out of the courtroom has raged for years, the matter of brain injury and physical sports is far from over. For example, just this week the New York Times published a new piece on the helmet manufacturers who are under intense scrutiny. In particular, many questions are being raised about the need for clear, unambiguous warning labels to ensure all sporting participants, particularly football players, are aware of the risk of serious brain, neck, and spine injury.

How Blunt Should Warnings Be?

The current debate focuses not on the existence of warning labels–all helmets have them in some form–but on the nature of the language itself. Most consumers rarely read these warnings, and, even when they do, the text is often so convoluted and watered down that few appreciate the details.

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Traumatic brain injuries are caused by significant contact between the head and a hard surface. This much is well known by most. That naturally leads to the assumption that one important way to prevent head injuries is to promote the use of helmets. Of course, that is exactly what many advocates are urging on a wide variety of fronts–from bicycle helmets and motorcycle helmets to better designed football helmets.

Yet it is a mistake to assume that all we need is more helmet use to get rid of the TBI problem. In fact, researchers are still toiling away to figure out exactly how helpful helmets are–the results may surprise you.

Bike Helmet Study

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The In Your Interest newsletter shared a helpful post recently that is a good summary of the ongoing problem of concussions in sports. The story shares information on former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011. Later, his brain was found to shown signs of a neurodegenerative disorder connected to his concussions while playing football.

The story notes that head trauma occurs in many facets of life, including sports. New understanding about the dangers of that trauma, however, do not mean that no one should play the riskiest sports. But the new data is crucial in crafting prevention strategies to keep players as safe as possible.

For example when it comes to high school athletics, rules, game tactics, equipment, and medical support can be altered to account for the risk of harm. It is entirely reasonable for players and their parents to expect those involved in running the programs (often schools) to act prudently to keep players safe. Their failure to do so, when it results in preventable injury, should never be acceptable.

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The Huffington Post reported this week on the disappointing truth that even after spending millions and devoting years to hammering out better identification methods for traumatic brain injuries, we still have a long way to go.

Much of the work has centered on the military. TBIs, including concussions, are in many ways the “signature” wound of the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. For that reason, many military resources were steered toward not only developing better treatment options for the injured soldiers but also developing better ways to identify when they have been injured at all. Yet, these remains significant challenges.

Identifying and Understanding TBI

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WSLS News warned its local readers about what it deemed the “silent public health epidemic” of traumatic brain injuries. In so doing they shared they story of a local resident who fell in her basement a few years ago. The woman explained that she was on top of her dyer while trying to fix a problem with a squeaking sound when she fell backwards. She hit the concrete floor. There was a light pad on the concrete, but her head and shoulder still made very hard contact. At first the woman was stunned by the fall-unable to move or talk. Eventually she regained her senses and was able to get up. She went to the doctor and was told that she had a concussion. Our Illinois brain injury attorneys realize that there is a perception among many in society that concussions are “not a big deal.” In the past they were essentially assumed to be just a hard knock on the head that didn’t have any long term consequences.

However, more and more people are learning that not to be true.

For example, the woman in this case still feels the effect of the fall three years later. As one doctor explained, “Often what will happen after a period of time, one will start to see changes in behavior that will be directly related to TBI.” These effects are hard to notice at first and often explained away by victims as caused by something else. Rarely is the traumatic brain injury recognized as the actual cause of the harm. It is for this reason that the problem is often considered “silent”-its effects are still underappreciated by the society at large.

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Those involved in all professional sports and high-risk activities have become more and more aware of traumatic brain injuries over the past few years. Medical research into the injury has suggested that head trauma leads to far more long-term damage than once thought. This new information must be taken into account by many different organizers, participants, and administrators of these activities to ensure that risks are minimized.

The Brattleboro Reformer posted a story this week on efforts by NASCAR-the most popular auto racing league in the country-to protect drivers. Of course, our Chicago brain injury lawyers appreciate that risk of head trauma is particularly high for these athletes, because auto accidents are the single most common way that community members suffer these injuries outside of the sports and entertainment context. However, the new findings into the long-term consequences of even minor head trauma suggests that officials in all sports, including NASCAR, need to pay close attention to the way that injuries can occur slowly over the course of a career.

In the Reformer story, well-known auto racer Michael Waltrip explains that in his over 30 year career in the sport he suffered well over ten concussions-perhaps many more. He discussed how sport officials assumed that things were safe in the past, even though they weren’t, noting “We thought we had it figured out. I raced all the way through 2001 when people were getting killed. And all through that time, I was hitting my head and knocking myself out and getting concussions and going to the hospital. And I don’t know what the means to me in ten years, but I know it’s a concern.” He also admitted that many drivers fail to receive the attention they need after a hard crash. This was particularly true in the past when mandatory medical check-ups did not exist.

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Our Chicago traumatic brain injury lawyers have spent a lot of time recently discussing concerns about the prevalence of head injuries in sports. Many tragic, high-profile stories exist about football players, hockey players, and soccer players who have suffered serious injury-even death-because of contact on the field. One of the most common causes of this harm are second-impact injuries. These arise when a player suffers a concussion, the injury is not given time to properly heal, and then the player suffers a second impact.

Much attention has rightfully been paid to these issues because the harm is so great and the injuries are entirely preventable. In this context the most serious harm from traumatic brain injuries can be prevented in one of two ways-(1) prevent the contact from occurring at all, or (2) ensure that proper treatment is provided 100% of the time. More attention has been made to the second option, because it likely provides more long-term benefit to players. It is also easier. Conversely, trying to prevent all potentially damaging contact in many of these sports is very difficult, especially because most of these activities are based on contact of one form or another.

However, that is not to say that it is impossible for all such injuries to be prevented. For example, rule changes in certain games can be included which minimize the risk of harm. Prohibitions against certain kinds of head to head tackles, for example, is likely an important safety step in football. Also, some experts are also working on changes to safety equipment to help cushion certain blows and prevent sever trauma that otherwise might result in an actual sports head injury. These equipment changes are easier said than done. Football helmets have difficult preventing head trauma because the actual harm comes from the brain making, contact with the inside of the skull, not the skull making contact with a helmet. In other words, the actual internal contact which is at the root of these brain injuries is not easily remedied by adding equipment outside the body.

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Our Chicago brain injury attorneys were interested to read about a statement that was just issued by the American Academy of Pediatricians, in which they stated that the group did not consider boxing a safe sport for children or teenagers to play. According to CBS News, the leading pediatricians found that boxing was a sport that had a very high rate of concussions, and that because of the risk of concussions in the sport that it was not safe for younger people to play. The group also believes that even the use of head protection does not eliminate the risk of concussions, and that the sport is not safe for kids or teenagers even when they use head protection for boxing.

The reason that the risk of repetitive concussions is a worry for pediatricians is that there is a great deal of scientific evidence that repetitive concussions can lead to severe and permanent brain injuries later in life. Many former athletes have developed later in life brain injuries after being involved in sports where they suffered from multiple blows to the head. Following any blow to the head, everyone needs to be thoroughly checked out by a doctor to see if they suffered from a concussion, or another type of head injury, and any athlete that suffers from a hit should only be allowed to go back on the field, ring, or court once they have been cleared by a doctor who has determined that it is safe for them to return to play. If a victim of a blow to the head gets right back in the game, when their body did not have time to recover fully, there is a much higher risk that another hit could leave that person with a severe or permanent brain injury.

Pediatricians worry about this problem with sports and head injuries even more so with children and teenagers. The reason for this heightened concern with concussions in children is that because younger people’s brains are not as fully developed as older individuals and can be much more susceptible to head and brain damage. Because of the level of brain development in younger people, the damage from concussions can be more severe and the healing time for the body to completely recover post concussion is often much longer than it would be for an adult.