Lou Gehrig’s disease linked to concussions, NFL players need to raise awareness level

Submitted by admin on September 8, 2010 – 5:13pm

The effect that football has on players’ bodies has long been debated and studied, and with new research the findings continue to get dramatically worse for the health of retired players and likewise, increasingly scary for current players.

Scientists, partly funded by the NFL, have found new evidence that now links head injuries in athletes to a condition that closely resembles ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dr. Ann McKee said she found toxic proteins in the spinal cords of three athletes who had suffered head injuries and were later diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. Those same proteins have been found in the brains of athletes with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to head injuries that causes cognitive decline, abnormal behavior and dementia.

CTE has been shown to be caused by repetitive head trauma that football players and athletes in other contact sports are subjected to repeatedly. The study, being published in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology, comes from a team of Boston researchers.

So, what does all this mean?

The statistics show that NFL players are eight times more likely to contract ALS than the average person. The damage is made worse when players don’t rest after receiving a concussion. Even more shocking is the fact that HBO’s Real Sports discovered six different instances of Gehrig himself being concussed or knocked unconscious during a game.

The NFL has finally admitted that there is a link between concussions and their long term effects on the brain and recently changed their policy on how concussions will be handled. Teams now will be required to receive advice from independent neurologists while treating players with brain injuries instead of consulting team trainers and doctors. The NFL also has donated $1 million to the Boston University center,with no strings attached, to help researchers study the effects of brain injuries.

Although the NFL has jumped on board with the results of these recent studies, NFL players need to understand the risks associated with concussions and their health and raise their overall level of awareness on concussions.

At least 14 former NFL players have been diagnosed with ALS and that number is sure to steadily rise as research continues. Players need to better equip themselves with knowledge about concussions and be aware of post-concussion syndrome or PCS. PCS is a set of symptoms that a person may experience for weeks, months, or occasionally up to a year or more after a concussion. The condition can cause a variety of symptoms: physical, such as headache; cognitive, such as difficulty concentrating; and emotional and behavioral, such as irritability.

Even more shocking than the number of former players that have been diagnosed with ALS are the results of a recent survey done by the Associated Press that showed that of 160 NFL players polled, nearly one-fifth had either hidden a concussion or played while under the effects of one last season.

The bottom line is NFL players need to gain as much information about concussions and dealing with concussions as possible and understand that trying to play through or come back from a concussion has severe consequences for their long term health and quality of life. Returning to the field too soon doesn’t help the team or the player, and only adds to the time it takes to recover from the injury.

When thinking about concussions, players need to understand to separate this injury from injuries such as a broken leg or sore hamstring. A concussion is a brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. In much the same way you wouldn’t see someone come back too soon from a serious spinal injury, you shouldn’t expect to see a player bounce back from a concussion.

As the new research has shown, education is the key in fighting concussions and NFL players should not leave it up to the league to give them all the information they need on concussions. Instead, it is imperative that players seek out their own information and know the facts about concussions and their health as well as they know the playbook on Sunday.

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Quentin Jones

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