The topic of brain injuries and sports has been receiving a lot of public attention in recent years, especially in the wake of the 2015 film Concussion. This film took a look at the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in many professional NFL players. This degenerative disease causes a number of problems, from memory loss to confusion to depression and eventually ends in dementia.
What are the consequences?
CTE is caused not only by multiple concussions over time, but brain researcher Ann McKee has also recently shown that even smaller hits over time can cause CTE. She came to this conclusion after studying the brains of deceased football players, both professional NFL players as well as college and high school players.That brain researcher, for all intents and purposes, recommended that children should not play football.
Indeed, CTE is not the only thing to worry about when it comes to children and football. A 2017 survey by Statista showed that 85% of respondents believed concussions were the largest danger associated with playing football. A recent study has shown that children may suffer brain damage after just one concussion. Moreover, this brain damage lingered over time. Although rare, concussions have also been known to cause death. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injuries such as concussions are even a large cause of death and disability in both children and teens. The risk is real and not one to ignore. Research is even showing that “mild” traumatic brain injuries could have serious, long-term consequences not only on health, but also on behaviour and cognitive abilities, although more research is needed on the topic.
The long term effects
An added problem in all of this is that even if your child recovers from a concussion, the long-term effects of repeated traumatic brain injuries in children are not that well known at this point.
Consider, too, that many people think a concussion only occurs when a person becomes unconscious. In many cases, this is not the case – and children often continue to play even though they have had a concussion. This was the very reason why the bill “Rowan’s Law” was passed in 2013 in Ontario; a high school student died after suffering a concussion in 2013. She had actually had two or three concussions before the final one without knowing. Yet, she continued to play.
In the journal Radiology Today, a study showed that football players between the ages of 8 and 13 showed signs of traumatic brain injury after only one season, even though they had no symptoms of a concussion. All of this begs the question, is football safe for children? Should your child play football?
Whether or not you choose to allow your child to play football in light of this information is, for now, a personal decision. Respected medical organizations such as the Canadian Pediatric Society have yet to take a definitive stance against it as they did with boxing in 2011. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will hold true as more research emerges in the coming years.
The best treatment for a concussion is prevention. Usually, sports medicine treatments are taken to prevent, recognize, manage and rehabilitate injuries related to sports.
One thing is clear, however: there is certainly a risk in doing playing football, and this is true even as steps are taken toward reducing these risks – such as more informed training when it comes to tackling and less full-body contact. If you allow your child to play football, ensure that they have a properly fitted helmet and that you are well informed on the full-range of concussion symptoms.
Anthony Grande is a registered physiotherapist and clinic manager at Focus Physiotherapy’s Brampton, Mississauga, Bolton and Etobicoke locations. Anthony became a physiotherapist in 1996 with a desire to move the needle and provide better care in physiotherapy clinics across Ontario. Anthony is involved in professional and government organizations, as well as be part of round tables with Ministers and their staff. He is most interested in rehabilitative healthcare, and hopes to continue to innovate within this field.