Of all the body parts and organs that we can repair and replace using modern medical techniques, we still cannot adequately repair the brain after a traumatic injury. I don’t think I need to go into details about why we cannot replace a brain like we can replace a kidney or liver. The brain is quite necessary to our daily lives, and we should be doing our best to protect it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, rates of traumatic brain injury related hospitalizations increased significantly between 2001 and 2010.
One of the most common types of traumatic brain injury is a concussion – trauma to the head causes the brain to crash against the inside of the skull. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including possible effects on physical or cognitive function. After each concussion, an individual becomes predisposed to subsequent concussions. Because concussions damage brain tissue and possibly disrupt blood flow in the brain, there can be – and often are – lasting consequences. While it is difficult to find causative evidence, there are many correlations between concussions and memory deficits later in life. Concussions in high school athletes are particularly dangerous as it is very possible that, depending on the severity of the concussion, there will be developmental issues as an injured brain spends resources on healing rather than forming further synaptic connections.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of concussions are sports-related. Football, soccer, lacrosse, and combat sports hold some of the leading statistics for concussions. In boxing, the term “punch drunk” was used to describe boxers displaying neurological deficits in speech, personality, or movement. This term has since been renamed dementia pugilistica. Mixed martial artists and boxers have an especially difficult time facing concussions. If they receive a concussion during a fight, which is very likely, they may not recover properly before returning to training, leaving them even more susceptible to another concussion. Football players face similar problems in that their concussions are often inadequately addressed. The NFL’s negligence and incompetence in caring for its players recently resulted in a lawsuit that cost them over $870 million. No amount of money, however, will cure the Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), or early onset dementia that many former-NFL players suffer due to the simple fact that we currently have no cures for these diseases.
While we generally have two of most body parts, we tend to only have one of the ones that are particularly important and difficult to replace. Chronic, traumatic brain injuries result in extremely debilitating diseases later in life. Sports will always be a huge part of our culture, and we should be concerned about the health of the athletes. Ultimately, the responsibility of caring for an athlete’s brain falls to said athlete and his or her coach. Thus, it is important for them to be educated and knowledgeable about the signs of a concussion and the proper steps to care for it. In some cases, even after multiple concussions, athletes still want to compete. They either need to for financial reasons, or they love the competition. They must make the difficult decision of continuing their careers or taking care of their bodies in the long run.