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From Car Accidents to NFL Tackles: Why Concussions Matter

Concussions are a common injury in both sports and in accidents. Chances are, you either have had or know someone who has had a concussion in the past. Concussions, and the permanent disabling conditions resulting from concussions, have been in the news lately due to the NFL players’ lawsuit against ownership and publicity surrounding that lawsuit. This awareness has forced people to take a closer look at this injury which was previously thought of as innocuous.

The scariest aspects of a concussion are that you don’t always know you have one, and that it can have lasting effects that come into play later in life. While it can sometimes be obvious that you’ve been concussed, such as if you pass out or forget what happened right before the injury, there aren’t always obvious signs. Learn more about concussions and how they can affect your everyday life.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). It occurs when a blow to the head or fall causes the brain to shake or move inside the skull. Your brain is protected by the spinal fluid that surrounds it, but sometimes a severe injury or event can cause it to bump or crash into the insides of your skull.

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Concussions can happen for a variety of reasons. Car accidents, bike accidents, fights, falls, sporting injuries, or just about any activity that risks you either accidentally or purposely getting hit in the head.

Concussion Symptoms to Look Out For

If you’ve been in an accident, you should see a doctor to assess your injuries. Your doctor will likely check for concussion symptoms at that time, but sometimes these symptoms can take a few days to appear. You should be sure to keep an eye out for these symptoms in case you have sustained a concussion that is not immediately apparent.

  • Unable to concentrate
  • Unable to think clearly
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • Having a headache
  • Having blurry or fuzzy vision
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling sensitive to light and/or noise
  • Having trouble balancing
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling sad, nervous, or anxious for no apparent reason
  • Feeling more emotional than usual
  • Having changes in usual sleeping patterns (either more or less)

Why are Concussions So Dangerous?

The most serious consequences of a concussion can involve bleeding or swelling in the skull. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the doctor may order a CT scan to rule out this more serious brain injury.

Because the brain is an incredibly complex organ, recovery times and patterns will inevitably vary from person to person. Most doctors recommend avoiding any physical activity until you are positively, completely healed from a concussion. Some might even recommend that you refrain from watching TV or playing video games (as it can strain certain parts of your brain).

Some research suggests that concussions can lead to long-term brain damage. Connections have been uncovered between concussions and degenerative brain diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s.

Concussions in the NFL

The NFL recently reached a settlement with the NFL Players Association, which included 130 former players, who asserted that the concussions they sustained while playing were not properly tended to or allowed to heal, and that these events caused serious, permanent and disabling injuries. It’s similar to a personal injury settlement for something like a car accident – the former players needed to prove that they had lost wages, physical health, and/or quality of life based on the NFL’s actions.

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Despite the settlement, some of the players have opted out of the terms of the settlement the and are seeking to have their cases tried separately from the global settlement. For instance, for players like Tony Gaiter (formerly of the New England Patriots), the concussions had an even more severe effect on his life than what the original settlement covers.

Tony Gaiter is a 42-year-old former player with the New England Patriots. Mr. Gaiter cannot drive a car or hold a job. He suffers from severe depression. He has a history of homelessness. He mutters to himself and has difficulty carrying on a conversation with friends and family members. He no longer cares about his appearance. According to his life-long friends and relatives, his condition has worsened over time. But none of these symptoms of his decline, all of which occurred after his retirement from the NFL and all of which are signs of CTE, are compensable under the current terms of the settlement.” (nflconfussionlitigation.com)

CTE and Concussion Research

CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is a another potential result from concussions. It occurs when multiple hits to the head (and therefore multiple concussions) cause a buildup of abnormal protein in the brain. It’s part of what the NFL lawsuit was based on, and also what causes some of the most serious issues that those who have sustained concussions may have to deal with later in life.

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Brandi Chastain, a US Women’s Soccer star from the late 90’s, has pledged to donate her brain to CTE research after she dies. She hopes to improve the safety of soccer, and sports in general, with her donation. As she has said,

“Having played soccer since I was little, I can’t even attempt a guess at how many times I’ve headed the ball. It’s a significant number. It’s scary to think about all the heading and potential concussions that were never diagnosed in my life, but it’s better to know.” (CNN.com)

Chastain was also involved with the U.S. Soccer regulation that prohibits children under age 11 from heading the ball.

In general, efforts being made by former pro sports stars are helping in bringing the issue of concussions and the degree to which they affect people’s lives to light. Being in an accident is no different – if there’s a chance you’ve sustained head trauma for any reason, it’s very important to visit a doctor and make sure you give yourself time to heal. Otherwise, the results can be lasting and devastating.

Works Cited:
http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/mental-health/how-dangerous-are-concussions/
http://www.brainline.org/content/2009/06/facts-about-concussion-and-brain-injury_pageall.html
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256518.php
http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/traumatic-brain-injury-concussion-overview/

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