Remember these words: car, dishwasher, pizza, blink, bear.
With the start of NFL training camp this week, there’s been quite a lot of talk in the football world about the new Guardian protective helmet cover. They make all the NFL players look like bobble heads or Toad from Mario but they have been proven to reduce the amount of concussions in the repeated head blows that so many football players sustain during football camp in throughout the season. Sports Illustrated says that, “The NFL determined that the protective caps reduce the severity of impact if one player is wearing it by 10%, and by 20% if two players are wearing them.” (1)
While concussions are often correlated with football (partially in thanks to the 2013 Will Smith movie “Concussion”) the highest concussion rates in sports are actually in rugby and ice hockey. American football is a close third, with soccer not far behind. Most of these sports make sense when you think about how a concussion usually occurs; a blow to the head. However, the occurrence of this type of injury is surprisingly low. Rugby comes in at the highest rate of 3/1000 AE or Athletic Exposures”. This means that an athlete playing rugby has about a 0.03% chance of getting concussed per 1 exposure to a game or live period practice (2). By demonstrating safe and proper techniques to athletes, these rates can be reduced and the sports will become safer.
Concussion protocol is talked about a lot especially in professional sports. While it has changed over the years this is a crucial part of coming back healthy from a concussion. Typically, there is a pre-test done before the season for most athletes that includes visual and memory related tests. When a concussion, or some sort of brain trauma occurs, a post test is generally required where the individual with the symptoms would need to be symptom-free (no headaches, dizziness, nausea, etc.) as well as having to produce the same (or better) scores on their visual in memory tests. Some of these may seem silly or even easy, but I promise you they can be harder than you would expect. Without looking, can you remember the order of the first five words that I wrote in this article? This is similar to some of the test that they have done prior to and after having a concussion.
Personally, I have had a concussion and had an interesting experience with it. It occurred in the afternoon and the rest of the day is completely blocked out of my mind. I don’t remember how it happened or what happened but I woke up the next day and thankfully felt all right. I was supposed to take it easy and was told to not be exposed to bright lights, screens, or anything too stimulating. While the protocol these days’ kind of varies depending on severity of the injury, individuals that have a concussion would have similar experiences. Luckily my experience had no residual effects, but I have seen firsthand how concussions can linger and cause symptoms such as severe headaches in individuals four days, weeks, months, or even years after a concussion incident. These are the scary ones and I can definitely see why parents are starting to deter their children from playing high contact sports such as football.
There are a few things that may reduce concussion rates and/or have a correlation to reduced rates of concussions. Studies have shown that strengthening the neck and the muscles that support the head can help absorb some impact and lessen the damage done to the brain. One study looked at the correlation between neck strength and susceptibility to brain trauma in high school contact sports. They found that for every 1 pound of increased neck strength there was a 5% decrease in the odds of that athlete sustaining a concussion (3).
Another somewhat interesting study I found shows that ketones can help combat post-traumatic cerebral energy deficits while also reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurodegeneration. Oftentimes UFC fighters will take ketones to help fight inflammation and reduce the effects of the fights on their brains. This treatment isn’t FDA approved and has some unanswered questions, but does seem to have a positive effect on individuals that are experiencing some sort of brain trauma (4).