The Resilient Brain

Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Concussion: What Are the Risks?

Exploring the consequences of taking one or more bumps to the head

Once again I was intending to continue with my format and present Part Five of my series of Methods and Treatment. However, when I received two emails, both relating to concussion risks, they caught my attention and I felt the topic needed to be addressed. What are the risks of concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when engaging in sports and/or recreational activities?

Neuroscientist Dr. Billi Gordon, Ph.D. wrote an excellent blog on Michigan Football and Traumatic Brain Injury. Dr. Gordon wrote this in reply to my post Springing into Concussion Awareness. He asked, “Will chronic traumatic encephalopathy make college football go away?” Meanwhile, Dr. Harry Kerasidis M.D. wrote a blog post on navigating the most serious decisions in sports. Both of these posts focus on the question of do you continue to engage in a sport or recreational activity knowing that it might cause severe brain damage, CTE, and possible suicide?

My reply isn’t a black or white answer, because there is not one generic type of person. People are not like cars where if a wheel falls off you can just replace it with another wheel. The reality is that every person has different finger prints. Every person is an individual. Every person is unique. This is why I developed my Five-Prong Approach to Treatment to help you regain your life again after a concussion.

Dr. Len Ochs, of Ochs Labs and inventor of LENS (Low Energy Neurofeedback System) has a wonderful criteria for determining what type of treatment to use. He looks at hardiness, sensitivity, reactivity, and prior history.

First and foremost some people are born very hardy. They feel fine regardless of the weather. They can work regardless of pain. They can withstand lots of tumbles and falls without sustaining injuries to the body or brain. The opposite of that type of person is someone who takes the same impact, but gets bruised, has severe pain, and has multiple injuries to the brain. 

As for sensitivity, I mentioned in a prior blog that a fair-skinned individual can be in the sun for 10 minutes and get severe sunburn, while another person will just get a tan. For example, a young boy came in with a family history of anxiety. He had a blow to the head that only dazed him, but the next day he experienced heightened feelings of anxiety and was unable to sleep. In this situation, the consequences of the injury can vary dramatically. Here is a hardy person, who can sustain lots of blow, yet has areas of the brain that are more sensitive to injury.   

Lastly, you can have a person who is reactive, meaning you can feel weather changes in your body. Changes in light, sound, and your environment do affect you. You may have strong reactions to stress and daily living. With this type of person, after sustaining a concussion they may have a wide variety of lingering and even intense symptoms.

Thus, given the same activity, same injury, and same event that would cause a concussion, you can have vastly different consequences depending on the hardiness, sensitivity, and reactivity of that individual. This in conjunction with prior history, as well as psychological, spiritual, energy and coping factors are included in my Five-Prong Approach.  

In determining what sport or recreational activity you or your child ought to participate in, it is important to use sound preventative judgment. If you or your child has fair skin, you don’t think twice about putting on suntan lotion.   

As mentioned in my blog, Springing into Concussion Awareness, I feel very strongly that in terms of organized sports, young children should not be asked to perform beyond their physical capabilities, because this could cause reckless behavior resulting in a concussion. 

Only in the past decade has there been any major type of research on brain injury, specifically concussion. CTE has come to focus because of the NFL lawsuits and the recent suicides of NFL players. Currently there is no formal method of determining which individual ought to participate in a given sport or recreational event.

 

As for the NFL players and professional boxers, as well as military men and women, there is no research showing how many concussions a player or person serving the country had sustained prior to going into the NFL, professional boxing, or the military. How many were in organized football at age six? The current sport evaluation and assessment tests do not take into account hardiness, reactivity, and sensitivity. They do take into account prior history of known concussion, or the ones that a person is not aware of, such as just being dazed. Yet, these tests and assessments are only for organized sports. If you are involved in a recreational activity and get a concussion, you and your PCP often decide if you can resume the activity again.

How often have you fallen and hit your head while hiking or riding your bike? Your child may not report this injury, then go to football practice and get knocked out. The coach and everyone else see this as the first concussion, instead of the second or third in the same week. Therefore, it is difficult to determine when to resume that sport again.

As for football and ice hockey, there was less head butting when there were thinner helmets.  There are also fewer concussions in rugby than in the NFL.   

So you can see there isn’t a nice clear black or white answer. I grew up in Ohio, where everyone lived and breathed football. I believe for college football, competitive sports, and recreational activities to exist, you have to consider preventative measures, assess the risks, and consider how they may affect you or your child individually.

Lastly, there needs to be more research and help for our wounded warriors. Many of them are suffering because they were misdiagnosed or are unaware of treatments that can and do help. It is extremely important to do research on concussion and CTE as it relates to the many people in our penal system who have performed acts of aggression and violence. How many people are put away for life at the cost of taxpayers’ money, and are getting little or no treatment because no one is aware that the behavior was related to multiple concussions and possibly CTE?

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D., is a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, Board Certified Sports Psychologist, and Trauma Therapist with over 35 years experience.

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