Stories about: sports

Subconcussive blows and soccer: what’s the headache?

As the fall sports ramps up, teen athletes across the country are donning shin guards and cleats, prepping to return to their beloved sport—soccer. A handful, however, are foregoing the ritual. One child sitting on the sidelines is the 13-year old daughter of Ken Reed, sports policy director of the League of Fans. Reed and his wife decided the risk of short- and long-term brain damage from subconcussive blows to the head outweighed the benefits of the sport. They pulled their daughter from the field, a decision Reed shared on this recent Huffington Post blog.

Thriving checked with William Meehan, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Clinic, to learn more about the science of subconcussive blows.

Studies seem to indicate a troubling trend. A research letter, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in late 2012, compared MRI exams of the brains of soccer players to swimmers and found differences in white matter integrity. White matter contains nerve fibers and connects areas of the brain responsible for different tasks, such as attention and memory.

MRI exams also showed amateur adult soccer players who headed the ball more frequently had white matter abnormalities similar to those found in players who suffered concussions, researchers reported in another study in Radiology.

Such studies attract a lot of media attention and may prompt some parents to consider pulling their children from the field. “It’s a personal decision. We have to consider the benefits of playing vs. the risks involved and make a decision from there,” says Meehan.

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Are low-tech (and cheap) evaluations the future of on-field concussion testing?

Plato may have been the first to cite necessity as the mother of invention, but the latest group to embrace the proverb may be coaches, athletic trainers and families worried about sports-related concussions in teen athletes. After an on-field blow to the head, neurocognitive assessment tools and high-tech helmets can measure symptoms of concussion, but their high cost and computer dependence limit use at one of the most common injury scenes—the sidelines of high school sport events.

As researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor pondered the problem, they struck it rich with a $5 gadget.

They hypothesized that a hockey puck attached to a dowel, or rod, marked in centimeters (dubbed a falling measuring stick) could be used to measure an athlete’s reaction time. Prolonged reaction time is one of the most common and sensitive indications of a concussion.

It works like this: to test reaction time, an athlete grasps the stick right above the puck. A trainer drops the stick, and the athlete grabs it as it falls, with the trainer noting reaction time in milliseconds. The researchers recorded their findings in a study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which showed the low-tech tool was fairly accurate in measuring prolonged reaction time among concussed athletes. The findings suggest the jerry-rigged dowel provides a reasonable estimate of prolonged reaction time, which could help identify athletes who may have suffered a concussion.

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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.

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Back-to-school health: Recognizing sport-related concussions

By Alexandra Wade, Michael O’Brien, MD and William Meehan, MD

The new school year has begun and fall sports season is fast approaching. But before the sports season kicks off, parents and young athletes should be fully aware of the risks associated with contact sports, particularly sport-related concussions, which are increasingly common in young athletes. But not every athlete who suffers a concussion is reflected in these cases; many athletes don’t recognize they’ve experienced a concussion because they don’t know the signs and symptoms. This is especially troublesome because athletes who don’t realize they’ve suffered a concussion are likely to return to play before they’ve fully healed, putting them at risk for a second concussion. Children who get a second concussion before fully recovering from the first are at a greater risk for serious, long-term problems.

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