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Definitive Evidence on Traumatic Brain Injuries & Football Emerges

A recent study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Vancouver is the strongest evidence, to date, that there is a direct link between playing football and brain trauma. This comes years after the National Football League (NFL) denied the existence of direct evidence that the sport was linked to traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), arguing that circumstantial evidence of ex-football players who had signs of TBI after death made it impossible to know for sure what, exactly, caused the TBI.

Yet, the latest evidence indicates that more than 40 percent of retired NFL players show evidence of abnormal brain structures, and 50 percent show serious problems with basic functions such as attention, planning, reasoning, and problem solving. Somewhere in between—at around 45 percent—are those having difficulty with basic memory and learning.

The Study

The data set was based on 40 former NFL players who played for an average of seven years and who had retired from the sport less than five years previous. Using MRIs, 43 percent showed damage to the brain’s white matter, which coordinates connecting nerve cells in different regions (indicative of a TBI). Thirty percent showed damage to neurons’ “long arms,” which communicate with each other; the first sign of poor brain health and leading cause of many brain disorders.

The research—conducted by Dr. Frank Conidi—found that the longer a player was with the NFL, the more likely they demonstrated signs of TBI. However, contrary to popular thinking, the cumulative effects of multiple, smaller hits that may not cause a concussion each time—unlike the big hits—were actually just as harmful—if not more—as the one big hit that brings about an obvious concussion because, when it comes to brain trauma in football, it’s mostly the repetitive banging that adds up to a serious problem.

More to Be Done

In spite of this definitive study, there is still more research to be done to make a cause and effect analysis. For example, researchers like Conidi want to learn more about those who do and do not develop more serious brain disorders; when do signs of brain injury definitely turn into cognitive deficits, headaches, and/or dementia, and when do they not? This will help to diagnose and treat players.

Perhaps most importantly, beyond NFL players, youth leagues and parents need to be talking about this. Many have pointed out that this is a serious issue for youth under the age of eighteen whose brains are still developing, especially since there’s been less outreach on the signs of concussions in these young players, and the need to take a pause and give young players a break when they start to show these signs. Could we even go so far as to eliminate head contact until we have more research in hand?

Representation for Florida Head Trauma Victims

Mike Walker is one of the top attorneys for representing victims of brain injuries in Clearwater. If you or a loved one has experienced a head or brain injury, contact the office today for a free consultation.

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