October 9, 2014 3:30p | CORE PT & MC | by CORE Movement Specialists
Football season is just around the corner and concussions are a hot topic for athletes of all ages and competitive levels. Sports organizations are implementing baseline assessments for athletes and standardizing protocols for managing concussions. Just this year, the NCAA allocated $70 million dollars for concussion testing and diagnosis of NCAA players to settle several claims by current and previous athletes. Meanwhile, the NFL proposed a $765 million concussion settlement.
How did concussions become today’s hot topic? In the good ole’ days, we didn’t hear much about concussions even though athletes wore leather helmets and minimal padding. So, what’s changed? Is it that the medical community understands concussions better? Is it that our medical diagnostic processes have improved? Are we more aware of the short-term and long-term signs and symptoms of concussion? Is it that the athletes or game itself have changed? The answer is, all of the above.
Our understanding of concussion injuries has increased substantially due to the injury trends in sports and the volume of US soldiers returning from war with concussions. Legislative and research endeavors are improving our understanding of epidemiology, incidence, prevalence, prevention and management of concussions. Diagnostic testing allows athletes of all ages to get baseline assessments for comparison should an injury occur. Sport organizations are establishing guidelines to recognize symptoms and standardize the medical management of concussions. We now know how critical it is to rest the brain after concussion; that means not only avoiding play (physical rest) but also requires cognitive rest. Cognitive rest includes rest from reading, texting, computers, TV, and related activities to the extent prescribed by your physician.
Today’s athletes are stronger (mass) and faster; it’s simple physics to understand why their bodies are under excessive force during every tackle. After all, “Force = Mass x Acceleration.” Combine increased force with psychological factors like confidence in protective gear and/or a general belief that they, like so many athletes, could “come back from an injury” and you have a recipe for disaster. Strength training is the primary emphasis of most sport conditioning programs; however more attention should be paid to the other body control elements of optimum performance. Don’t get me wrong, strength training is important, but to what end? With increased mass under increased speed, it’s unlikely that advances in protective equipment can offset the forces these athletes experience with every snap of the ball. Concussions, unlike many joint or muscle injuries, cannot be “fixed” in the operating room. In contact sports, concussion prevention is crucial and could be as simple has training athletes at all levels to hit smarter not harder. Playing smarter with self-discipline will reduce the prevalence of injuries including concussions.
Ask a Physical Therapist or Movement Specialist how you can prevent injuries by diversifying your training regimens. These professionals are also at the forefront in educating parents, coaches and athletes about prevention and proper injury management. As an athlete, maximize your performance by working smarter both on and off the field.