In sports like football, a hit to the head definitely hurts, but it’s not necessarily seen as a serious injury. However, brain injuries — which includes regular hits to the head week in and week out — can be far more serious than most people realize.
What the research says about head injuries
Studies have shown that brain injuries in football players can potentially have long-term effects. One study looked at 45 retired professional football players (including former NFL defensive ends and offensive linemen) between the ages of 26 and 82. The study evaluated the men’s brains while they performed cognitive tasks that required attention and focus. Compared to non-players, the football players’ cognitive scores and SPECT brain scans showed that two areas of their brains — the medial frontal and medial temporal lobes — weren’t getting enough blood.
In the brain, the medial frontal lobe is associated with judgement, impulse control, forethought and learning from one’s mistakes. The brain’s temporal lobes are also involved with learning, memory, mood stability and temper control. Some researchers also suspect that reduced blood flow in the brain could be a predictor of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Head injuries don’t just happen in sports like football
While much of the research on concussions and brain injuries focuses on football players, this is not the only sport or physical activity in which someone can suffer a hit to the head. Other high-risk activities for head injuries include bicycling, hockey, skiing, soccer, horseback riding, mixed martial arts and even cheerleading.
Traumatic brain injuries don’t just occur in athletes. Whether you have kids who play sports or participate in a variety of physical activities yourself, it’s important to understand the health risks associated with head injuries.
There are several ways to prevent and reduce one’s risk of brain injuries:
- Wear a helmet — Forgive the pun, but helmets are a no-brainer when it comes to preventing and reducing one’s risk of head injuries. Whether you’re biking, skiing, snowboarding or participating in contact sports, it’s imperative that you wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet can literally save your life and prevent a serious brain injury. Parents should set a good example for your kids by always wearing a helmet — not just when you feel like it.
- Seek treatment right away — It’s important to learn the basic signs of a concussion, which can include headache, temporary loss of consciousness, confusion, amnesia, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Following a concussion or head injury, seek medical attention immediately.
- Don’t ignore head injury symptoms or wait for them to “go away” — Athletes, especially teenagers, tend to downplay their injuries. Someone might brush off a concussion or head injury as nothing serious, or might lie because they want to keep playing or stay in the game. Following a concussion or head injury, it’s better to play it safe and visit the ER, so that the person can be evaluated by a doctor.
- Give your brain time enough time to rest — Someone who has suffered a head injury should rest for at least two weeks after the incident and not resume physical activity until their symptoms have vanished. Athletes and kids might be eager to get back on the field, but talk to a doctor first before resuming any sports.
In the instance of brain or head injuries, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always talk to a doctor after suffering a concussion or head injury.