By Amy McGorry
Recently, some former NFL players publicly admitted to suffering effects from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated head traumas such as concussions. CTE can lead to memory loss, aggression, depression and dementia. CTE has reportedly been found in at least 50 deceased football players’ brains. This finding has sparked a movement to prevent concussions and the resulting conditions.
CTE used to be diagnosed only through autopsy. Thanks to a landmark study at UCLA this year, researchers for the first time are able to detect signs of CTE in living players through specific brain scans. Lamar Campbell, director of media relations for the NFL Players Association in Atlanta, says this is significant. "It's important for players to be forewarned to see if there is anything they can do to prepare for what’s to come," says Campbell, himself a former NFL player.
Concussions can hit anyone -- not just NFL players. Military hazards, car accidents, falls, contact sports and even yoga can leave a person at risk for concussions. Unfortunately, concussions often are not as apparent as a sprain or swollen knee, and athletes often return to sports too soon. This can have short-term and long-term effects.
When Concussions Are A Pain
Your brain is cushioned by fluid and protected by your skull. With concussions, the brain gets “knocked around” in the skull after an athlete suffers a blow to the head. Symptoms may occur immediately or hours to days later.
Experts say repetitive concussions can trigger a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau, which damages brain cells and is found in CTE. The UCLA study using a brain scan on living players identified tau in areas of the brain that control emotions and memory. This finding correlates with the CTE brains that were studied in autopsy.
Why You're Sidelined
If you suffer a hit to the head, seek medical attention and be observed over a 24-hour period.
Concussion signs and symptoms may include:
- Mental fogginess
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Personality changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Ringing in ears
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Sensitivity to light and noise
If you have a concussion, experts say to :
How To Stay In The Game
Take these steps to prevent concussions:
- Wear protective equipment. Helmets help prevent head injuries, and their effectiveness with concussions is being studied.
- Be aware of water and sweat on floors.
- Strengthen your neck.
Neck muscles can help soften the blow from hits. Do 10 repetitions of the following exercises, holding each position for 5 seconds. Remember to keep your head straight -- don’t let it move!
- Put your hand on the right side of your head and gently resist by tilting your head to the right. Hold.
- Next, resist by turning head to right. Hold.
- Place left hand on the left side of your head. Resist by tilting head to the left. Hold.
- Now resist by turning head to left. Hold.
- Put your hand on your forehead and resist by bringing head forward. Hold.
- Place your hand on back of your head and push head back. Hold.
And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!