You only get one brain

A few weeks ago, I went onto The Google to look for running resources in my hometown. I enjoy running a lot (except when the Powers that Be insist upon dumping piles of snow on New England every few days *shakes fist angrily at sky*), and was looking into resources for a family member who had indicated an interest in running herself. By searching with "[hometown]" and "running" I found nothing helpful for her, but I did come across a YouTube video of high school running back being interviewed after a game. The description caught my eye, so I watched it. (Sadly, I'm not particularly keen to tell everyone where I'm from, so readers who don't already know my hometown won't be able to find the video in question. Were they so inclined.)

In the video, the player describes taking a hit and blacking out briefly. However, as the interviewer approvingly notes, the player "manned up" and got right back in the game, wherein he apparently made a some impressive plays.

Suffice it to say, my own reaction was less approving. While I am loath to make any diagnosis without my own history and physical, what the player described was almost certainly a concussion. Presuming this diagnosis is valid, he absolutely should not have returned to play, and should have instead received medical attention shortly thereafter. But that wouldn't have been "manning up," I suppose, and would have lacked heroic appeal.

Ben McGrath has an excellent article about football and concussions in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Anyone who is interested in the subject would do well to read it. It is a subject that deserves as much attention as possible, because the long-term effects of repeated concussions are only just now coming to light. Parents of athletes, particularly in contact sports, should read it with care.

I encounter a lot of patients who have sustained some kind of head trauma during sports participation, and I'm glad to say that coaches and trainers in the area increasingly seem to be treating concussions with appropriate vigilance. I work in a relatively affluent and well-educated area, so it's no surprise that parents here would be more attuned to shifting norms and health care recommendations. While the best approach to concussion management is an area of ongoing research, and there's still a lack of clarity in how best to advise and treat these patients, it is definitely a condition to be respected, and not downplayed or shrugged off.

I don't want to make too much of one video found randomly, even if it is from my hometown. But it certainly reminded me that there are plenty of players and coaches and fans who don't appreciate the long-term significance of concussions (especially more than one) in athletes. We are learning new and encouraging things about brain plasticity, but brain-damaged patients can find themselves progressively and permanently disabled. No sport is worth that.

1 comment:

  1. Dan,

    I know you don't follow professional sports closely (at all?) but concussions were a very large story line this year in the NFL. New rules, tougher enforcement (to the tune of $50,000+ fines for hits that could lead to concussions, etc) Sadly this led to a huge debate in the media and among fans about how much violence should be allowed in sports. While it was somewhat heartening to see many commentators change their stance and start speaking out about the dangers of concussions it was equally distressing to see how many people (players especialy) who have chosen to cling to "It's FOOTBALL dammit!" mentality.
    The good news is that it no longer being ignored and is being addressed, but sadly it will be an uphill climb to change the culture surrounding the sport (and sports in general).