New Concussion Research Offers Hope and Cause for Concern

Girls may have more to worry about than boys when it comes to concussions, youth concussions may be more serious over the long term and researchers at Boston University may have found a way to diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in living patients, according to new research released in September 2017.

First, the good news: Boston University researchers discovered that a chemical known as CCL 11, a form a cytokine, which the body releases to repair brain injury, appears to be elevated in people with CTE. Though the results are preliminary, this could open the door to CTE diagnosis in living patients through analysis of spinal fluid. Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death by examining the brain.

Now the concerning news: A separate BU CTE study found that kids who played tackle football before the age of 12 had up to double the risk of suffering behavioral problems and triple the risk of developing depression. One of the study’s authors said that children should not play football to minimize the risks of concussions and subconcussive injuries, both of which have been linked to CTE.

A third study, published during the first week of October in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, found that some girls need twice as much recovery time as boys after a concussion. Looking at girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 18, researchers found that 75% of boys recovered from a concussion in three weeks, but only 42% of girls fully recovered.

CTE, Sports and Mood Disorders

While the exact link between concussions and CTE remains elusive, the results should raise concern in parents of middle-school and high-school athletes. Early symptoms of CTE mimic those of traumatic brain injury and include depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping and sudden mood swings. Patients with CTE can progress to suicidal thoughts or symptoms that resemble Alzheimer’s disease.

There is no known “safe” number of concussions and there is no “safe” sport. While attention focuses on full-contact sports such as football and hockey, head injuries suffered in baseball and soccer could also contribute to CTE. Heading the ball in soccer is a particular concern for researchers, which led U.S. Soccer to prohibit heading in games played by children under 10 and to limit the use of the head for all players under the age of 13.

Keeping Kids Safe in Sports

Before you forbid kids from playing sports, remember that sports are just one possible source of concussions. Sledding, snowboarding, riding bicycles and skateboarding present similar dangers and can sometimes be more dangerous, if these activities take place with no adult supervision.

As with any activity, parents need to weigh the risks and determine what is best for their children, while taking steps to keep them as safe as possible.

Talk to coaches about concussion safety. Before you let a child play, make sure that their coach knows and follows current concussion safety protocols. This is particularly important for football and soccer, where specific guidelines exist to prevent head injuries.

Review concussion protocols. Make sure that schools or intramural programs have concussion safety protocols in place. These must include immediate removal from a game when a head injury is suspected, and suspension until a child is medically cleared to play.

Know the symptoms of concussion. Headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and noise, balance problems, difficulty sleeping and lack of concentration are common symptoms of concussions in children. If you suspect a child has suffered a concussion, see a doctor immediately.

Allow recovery time. The risk of brain injury increases after a concussion if the brain is injured a second time in the same area. Children should stay away from sports until they have fully recovered, which could take two to three weeks for boys and three to six weeks for girls.

Concussions, CTE and the Legal System

Sports-related concussions are still a new area in personal injury law. Proving that concussions caused long-term problems for an individual can be difficult without the right legal time representing you. Sheff Law is a recognized leader in brain injury cases in Boston, and we provide free consultations with no fee for our services unless you receive a settlement. Contact us today if you believe you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury.

Youth football players run onto the field before a game

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