By Cassie Baseman
Perhaps the most concerning injury in sports nowadays is a concussion. You hear about them all the time as more and more research is being conducted.
4It is now typical to see athletes “get their bell rung” or come off the field with a headache and be sent for further evaluation to ensure that their brain is protected. Athletes often go home with a headache and feel dizzy and then enter into a concussion “return-to-play” protocol so they do not go back to activity too soon. However, the long-term effects of numerous concussions and the effects of numerous sub-concussive blows are still being researched.
Currently, research has termed long-term brain damage from repeated concussions as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had severe blows to the head or even small, repeated blows to the head. The problem observed with this condition is that it takes roughly eight to 10 years to notice symptoms. The symptoms of CTE are much different than your typical concussion symptoms of headaches, dizziness, and some nausea.
The symptoms of CTE begin with attention deterioration and progress into memory loss, social instability, erratic behavior, dementia, tremors and suicidality.
As you can see, CTE is a very serious medical condition that cannot be overlooked.
The main reason for the extreme symptoms is because CTE causes a reduction in brain weight specifically in the frontal and temporal lobes which control voluntary functions, visual memory, language comprehension, and controlling emotions. As it progresses, CTE can causes decreases in other aspects of the brain such as the hippocampus and the amygdala which are responsible for forming new memories and detecting fear. Even with these changes in the brain, there currently is no way to diagnose and detect this condition while one is still alive.
Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose it is through an autopsy.
Research is still being conducted to see if any type of imaging (such as an MRI) can be used to diagnose this in one’s life. With this being said, there is currently no treatment for CTE; the best treatment right now is prevention.
This brings me back to what we can do right now with the athletes we know and love.
When an athlete sustains a concussion, they need to allow their brain to rest and follow a gradual return to play protocol. They need to be cleared by a medical professional prior to competing again. If an athlete sustains numerous concussions in one season, they may need to be removed from participation even longer in order to allow the brain to heal and prevent further brain damage.
Athletes should also be aware of the sub-concussive blows they receive to the head as well.
Research is still being conducted to create equipment that will monitor sub-concussive blows and to limit the effects they have on the brain.
Hopefully, as the research progresses we can find a way to detect these brain changes and treat CTE before it is too late.
Do you have a question regarding sports medicine that you would like to see addressed in this space in the future? Send your questions to SportsMed@lrhc.org and it may be featured in an upcoming article.
Cassie Beseman is an athletic trainer with Lake Region Healthcare.