Health Team

NFL's helmet-to-helmet hits put spotlight on concussion prevention, recovery

Posted September 13, 2016

Proper recovery from a concussion is critical to prevent further brain injuries even in young athletes.

Concussions are a big concern, especially this time of year with hard hits on the football field.

Those head injuries can happen to athletes of all ages in almost any sport. There is now a big focus on recovery after a concussion.

Discussion about concussion recovery is making headlines after multiple hard hits on Carolina Panther's quarterback Cam Newton. For him, there were concerns about proper evaluations on the field when Newton continued to play.

Concussion experts are demanding more careful evaluation during games to prevent a second hit to the head.

Proper recovery is critical to prevent further brain injuries even in young athletes.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt or blow to the head. It causes the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull.

Better rules on the field and improved helmets to mitigate the risk are important. But Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Andrew Russman says the period after a concussion is just as important.

"We have to protect young athletes from more significant issues that may recur with repetitive trauma and by fully recovering from their condition before they resume play," Russman said. "We're allowing them time to recover, allowing their brains to heal, and giving a safer return to play."

Russman says that if an athlete suffers a concussion either during a game or at practice, they need to be removed from the field of play and be evaluated by an appropriate doctor.

Athletes nee proper recovery time until they are symptom free at rest before returning to play or practice. Not following this protocol could lead to even worse symptoms, and in rare cases, returning to play too early can actually produce brain swelling and risk to life.

Russman says there is growing evidence that it may not be necessary to avoid all physical and mental activity, though. Aggressive physical and mental rest could make concussion sufferers more sensitive when they get back to their sport.

"It's not necessary to completely shut off the television and the cell phone or computer, but rather have lighter exposure to these environments or these devices and to recognize that if our symptoms are significantly worsening with these activities we should be reducing the amount of exposure we have to them," Russman said.

Russman says light activities such as riding a stationary bike or walking—activities that don't significantly increase symptoms—are usually safe to do while recovering from a concussion.

NFL officials were criticized for not taking a more cautious approach to Newton during the Panther's season opener in Denver against the Broncos.

He was evaluated after the game, as well as the following morning, and there were no reports of immediate complications.

While there has been much talk about proper evaluation of concussions, the bigger issue is the prevention of the helmet-to-helmet hits.

It is difficult for spotters with binoculars in the upper-level booths to make appropriate evaluations of when someone is dazed or staggering. Objective neurologists, in addition of team physicians, could provide evaluation after a player suffers a hit to the head.

There can be serious short and long term complications to these head-to-head hits.


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