Thoughts on everything we are hearing and will see: An opinion

Certainly we are nearing a “too much” point in terms of concussion for most of the country. For others this is just the continuation of what we have been doing for years. From a personal perspective I do like the attention that the discovery process is getting. I am all for people getting all the info possible to make informed decisions.

I want to take this particular space in this post to assert that I am not – nor have I ever – been against any sport including football. I am, transparently, supporting flag and non-tackle football until high school. Yes, no scientific evidence proves this helps/hurts, but in all my work and research I am of the opinion that less dosage of repetitive brain trauma is better for humans.

That is where we stand, the issue really is one of repetitive brain trauma (RBT), not of sports or accidents or leisure activities. As Dr. Omalu clearly stated in his interview with Matt Chaney in 2011 and again today with Mike & Mike (hour 4); the brain does not heal itself. Damaging it, even on the microscopic level can and will leave a lasting impact. This is not just assumption, it is noted in many different studies regarding brain health after activities (see Purdue).

I am confident that with proper healing time and avoidance of re-injury the brain will find a way to function at or even better (proper learning and congnitive functioning) as people get older. The management of not only the “gross” injury of concussion and TBI is one that is getting better and as we get more research the management of the subconcussive hits and exposure, that too will be satisfactory.

What we all must do is take off the “emotional pants” and wade through the muck to find out what is important for us to make decisions for those that are not capable or even legal. Part of this is discourse and discussion (civil would be best). Everyone will be challenged intellectually and morally with this – it’s OK.

I noticed an article written by Irv Muchnick yesterday Continue reading

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“League of Denial” (Part 2)

Coming to a bookstore and TV near you today is “League of Denial” a book and documentary about one of the dirty little secrets the NFL has been avoiding for some time.  Fortunately, I have been provided with advance copies of both; the Frontline film was easy to digest, as for reading a book, well we can just say I am trying to read as fast as possible.

I was reminded quickly, yesterday via Twitter, that I may lack valuable perspective when it comes to concussion information (and that I am not normal – this is not breaking news).  Will Carroll of Bleacher Report let me know that this information will be new to a lot of people out there.  He is exactly right, not only that, this documentary will be easily digestible for the fan of football.  For any person just wading into this, when you tune into PBS tonight to view “League of Denial” you will be absolutely hooked from the start.

The sounds of the crowd, visuals of big hits grab your football part of the brain IMMEDIATELY, over those sounds you will quickly discover the problem NFL players have faced with brain injuries playing their sport.  Harry Carson saying “and then they are gone” when talking about former players.  A bold statement that the level of denial was “just profound.”  An NFL lawyer saying “we strongly deny those allegations that we withheld information or misled the players.”  And more video and sound of punishing hits that used to fill the highlight reel bring the opening curtain of this very important documentary.

This problem is real – it’s not just real for the professionals – and from the get go Frontline makes you understand, vividly and personally, why this is.  After listening to old radio calls of the Steel Curtain it all begins with the story of Mike Webster and the forensic pathologist who studied his brain, Bennet Omalu.

The discovery of a possible reason one of the most respected and lauded players in Pittsburgh sports pantheon fell from grace and eventually found and early demise.  If the football portion of your brain does not connect to what is being presented then I would haphazardly guess that you are not ingrained within the fabric of football.

As Harry Carson explains how the game was played and to some extent how it’s still played you can begin to understand the issue at hand.  This is hammered home when Robert Stern, PhD tells the audience blows to the brain are at forces 20 times greater than the force of gravity (20 G’s); or as he so eloquently put it “driving into a brick wall at 35mph”, 1,000 times or more in a season.

In the first 11 minutes of this 2 hour presentation you are at full attention and want to understand the “whats”, “whys” and “whos”.  If you are not engaged and ready for further explanation I can only say that you don’t care or want to bury your head in the sand.

Contributions in the film include Continue reading

UPMC Blazes Trail… Comes up with curious results

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh did something that has not been done up to this point; an intensive study on youth football.  Using geography as its selector the prestigious group looked into Pop Warner football and concussion rates.  The sample size is impressive, over 11,000 athletic exposures over an entire season of play (2011).

However, instead of heralding the work more questions have been raised about the conclusions drawn by lead researcher Micky Collins, PhD.  I don’t want to “lead the witness” before you had the chance to hear yourself, watch Dr. Collins below;

Interestingly enough Dr. Collins’ points regarding the depth and breadth of this investigation are spot on, it was both needed and welcome.  It is good to have a starting point and something to say “this is where we came from” at all levels of sport – with regards to concussions.  After that, I personally Continue reading

Pop Warner Changes

It is about time someone took a proactive step in football.  The sport is not the sacred cow everyone thinks it is; football is touchable by the courts and deep pockets, it is “when” not “if” when it comes to disruption of the sport.  However Pop Warner football actually took a very bright and forward step in limiting contact for its players;

Pop Warner is limiting contact in practice as part of an effort to reduce players’ risk of concussion. Pop Warner’s medical advisory board made the announcement this week.

Under the new regulations, coaches must limit contact to no more than one-third of their practice time. It also is banning full-speed, head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart. Coaches can have full-speed drills in which players approach each other at an angle but “not straight ahead into each other.” There also should be no head-to-head contact.

HOWEVER!!!  (Always seems to be that or a ‘but’ with me)…  There still can be contact Continue reading

Greatest Football Team Ever in Canada – Head Games

The Fifth Estate of CBC aired a documentary on the “Greatest Football Team Ever” in Canada, not as a retrospective homage to the good times, rather as an unfolding mystery.  The most peculiar thing about this very good documentary is that it was originally aired, not a year ago, not even two but in 2008.  Much has been discovered about repetitive brain trauma since 2008 the video is haunting just to view it with “today’s” eyes.

They have been called the greatest football team in the history of the CFL — the Edmonton Eskimos of the 1970s and ’80s that won five consecutive Grey Cups. But, for some of the star players on that team, the years of triumph ended ingloriously in early deaths, from heart attack, suicide and misadventure. The tragedy of those early deaths was often compounded by alcohol or drug addictions, probably caused by another, less visible, killer. Recent research by neuroscientists now shows the link between on-the-field concussions and brain damage; a permanent injury that can lead to depression, suicide and severe aberrant behaviour. The damage is so profound, the researchers say, that post-mortem examinations of the brain tissue of five former professional football players can be compared only to the tissue found in the brain tissue of advanced Alzheimers cases.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the piece you can CLICK HERE to see it in full.  You will get to hear from very important people who are not nearly as high-profile as those hailing from Boston; Dr. Julian Bailes, Garrett Webster, son of Mike Webster and Dr. Bennet Omalu.

Family Allows Brain to be Studied

In the aftermath of the suicide of Junior Seau the most pressing question was if the family was going to allow researchers to study his brain in-depth.  It has now been reported that the Seau family has agreed to this as Michael O’Keeffe wrote last night;

Two research groups — the Brain Injury Research Institute and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy — made bids to persuade Seau’s family to donate his brain to them within 24 hours after the Pro Bowl linebacker’s death.

It sounds ghoulish for scientists to vie for a beloved athlete’s brain so soon after his death, but the researchers needed to let the Seau family know of their interest before it makes arrangements for his remains. “You can’t do this kind of test on a living person,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, the director of the Brain Injury Research Institute.[…]

“Either they get it or we get it,” Bailes said Thursday before the Seau family told BIRI it would donate Junior’s brain to the Boston researchers. Bailes said it could help researchers determine if genetics play a role in CTE, or whether concussions — as opposed to repeated, but less serious, blows to the head — are necessary to bring on CTE.

“This specimen needs to be examined,” Bailes said. “It doesn’t matter who does it. There are only two groups doing this kind of work.”

Although the BIRI – Continue reading

Doubts About Concussion “Products”

Julie Deardorff or Chicago Tribune posted a story about how products within the concussion realm have some doubts cast upon them.  From the helmets – to the mouthpieces – to the supplements – to the tests; Deardorff takes a health angle on them;

s concerns mount over the dangers of concussions, especially in youngsters whose brains are still developing, so does the demand for products that purport to help diagnose the mild traumatic brain injury, reduce the risks or prevent it from happening altogether.

But although the harm from head injuries is increasingly well-documented by science, the validity of such claims so far is not.

One of the most telling portions of the story is from Elizabeth Pieroth;

“Regardless of what tool you use, good concussion management is about educating parents and families about how to manage injury,” said Pieroth, who works with Northwestern University athletes and is the concussion specialist for the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, Fire and White Sox.

“You don’t need to be so fearful that you put your kid’s head in bubble wrap,” she said. “It’s just like any other injury — you need to understand when enough is enough. If your child had three ACL surgeries, he’d likely be done with the sport. Parents need to make the same decisions about concussions.”

This should be the take home message here; concussions will happen, how it is managed is the bigger and broader issue.  There is currently (and none on the horizon) not a “magic bullet” for diagnosis or management.  The key, from the CDC is “When in doubt sit them out.”

AAN: “A New Game Plan for Concussion”

The American Academy of Neurology has defined a more comprehensive stance when dealing with concussions.  The AAN released a position statement regarding the initial management of concussions, last November;

1. Any athlete who is suspected to have suffered a concussion should be removed from participation until he or she is evaluated by a physician with training in the evaluation and management of sports concussions.

2. No athlete should be allowed to participate in sports if he or she is still experiencing concussion symptoms.

3. Following a concussion, a neurologist or physician with proper training should be consulted prior to clearing the athlete for return to participation.

4. A certified athletic trainer should be present at all sporting events, including practices, where athletes are at risk for concussion.

5. Education efforts should be maximized to improve the understanding of concussion by all athletes, parents, and coaches.

Neurology Now a publication for “healthy living for parents and their families” has published an article by Kate Gamble that takes a closer look at why the statement was made.  With the back drop of new and expanding research along with stories like Tommy Mallon Gamble interviews the likes of Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Jeffery Kutcher to explain why we need to readjust the stigma of concussions; Continue reading