Junior Seau’s CTE shines light on the importance of preventing concussions, and allowing full recovery

Today, the National Institutes of Health confirmed that former NFL star Junior Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

Seau’s family requested that the results be released to the public, in hope that the news would raise more awareness about the dangers of repetitive brain injuries. The takeaway is clear: preventing concussions and brain injuries is crucial, but properly treating them once they occur carries equally substantial weight.

Recent research by William Meehan, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Sports Concussion Clinic, shows that repeated concussions, even mild ones, cause profound learning and memory problems, and that the effects are cumulative, and worsen when concussions occur without time for recovery in between.

If an athlete has already had a concussion, the research shows that the best preventive measure is to rest your brain. But making the decision to return to sports can be difficult if you don’t have data to show that the injury is fully healed. Athletes might feel pressure from coaches to get back in the game once they stop showing obvious symptoms, and schools may not fully comprehend the serious need for cognitive rest.

 

William Meehan, MD

ImPACT baseline testing—a tool that determines how your child’s pre-concussion memory and reaction time compares with their post-concussion responses—provides important information in the event that your child suffers a concussion.

Here is how imPACT baseline testing works:

  • Before a concussion occurs, the athlete takes a 25-minute test that measures memory and reaction time.
  • If a concussion does occur, that test data is used to help measure his or her readiness to return to sports, so that when they do return, they are fully healed.

Without this data, it can be difficult to tell if an athlete has completely recovered, which may put them at risk for future injury.

It’s hard to think about your child getting a concussion, yet more than a half-million emergency department visits for kids younger than 14 are for concussions, and each year, more than three million sports-related concussions occur across the country.

Here are the five things Meehan says all parents should be aware of when it comes to their child athletes (for more on this topic, see Meehan’s recent Q&A on concussions).

  • Most young athletes and parents don’t recognize their symptoms as a concussion. If you suspect your child has a concussion, see a doctor.
  • If concussions are managed properly and the child doesn’t go back into risky situations until they’re recovered, she will likely be fine.
  • Neck-strengthening exercises, which can help keep the head from snapping backward or forward during impact, are a great way to help reduce the chance of concussion.
  • Helmets prevent catastrophic brain injury, but they don’t prevent concussions.
  • Children who get a second concussion before fully recovering from the first are at risk for serious, long-term problems.