Concussions are the result of the brain jarring inside the skull, causing irreversible damage to the brain’s outer cerebral cortex. After casual discussion with friends, I found it surprising how few twenty-somethings knew this and how dangerous this condition is. Most people I spoke with knew that a concussion was one of the reasons that Muhammad Ali had trouble speaking, and the main cause of former New York Jet Wayne Chrebet’s departure from the team after eleven years of playing. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding is one of the main causes of brain damage due to concussion; many individuals who sustain them continue to play.
In this January’s Annals of Biomedical Engineering, it was noted that football players were the most likely candidates to receive a concussion in the United States. The paper notes that the average collegiate football player will sustain roughly one thousand subconcussive head on hits during each season. For each UCF freshman that joins the football program, this means that he is likely to sustain about 4000 subconcussive hits during his career in college. The study did not note how players were subjected to hits in their potential professional careers.
A July 7th article in The Indianapolis Star states that the younger an individual is, the longer it will take for a sustained concussion to heal. This means that collegiate players who played football in their youth and sustained concussions are more likely to have potentially unhealed concussions as they enter college. Unfortunately, this may go unnoticed in the college programs.
The NCAA does not require college sports programs to have a formal policy on concussion treatment or prevention, according to a 2009 New York Times article on the topic. Many Division I universities do not have a protocol in place, the article notes, and that the NCAA handbook on college sports injuries devotes only four pages out of its 126 total.
In a comment from UCF Athletics, the university does maintain a concussion protocol. I was also told, “UCF does not use the “hits” system (a tool developed to measure G forces of hits taken). UCF student-athletes do wear helmets certified by NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) that have evidence-based research behind their helmets.” This is a responsible stance taken by the university, and it is to be commended.
According to Dr. Leonardo Olivera, Pegasus Health’s sports medicine physician and professor at the UCF College of Medicine, education is the number one factor in preventing injury, and parents and coaches should know the signs of concussion. Understanding how concussions occur and how to manage them once they are sustained is the best way to deal with this potentially debilitating condition.