Spring is just around the corner, and lacrosse season begins soon. As a member of the Sports Committee of the American Academy of Neurology, I wish to make a few comments about sports-related concussions.

It is important for parents, coaches and sports trainers, as well as athletes competing in contact sports, to be aware of the risks and to know how to recognize and manage a concussed athlete on the field.

No athlete should return to play the same day as the injury. Once all symptoms (which may include dizziness, headache, fatigue, imbalance, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance and depression) have resolved, then there is a recommended, gradual return to play.

The young athlete’s brain is more susceptible to injury until about age 22, when it is thought to be fully developed.

There is much evidence that multiple concussions can lead to a chronic progressive untreatable brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is documented in the ongoing pathological study at Boston University of deceased athletes, all of whom had five or more concussions.

BU has studied the brain tissue of 94 deceased former NFL athletes, 90 of whom had the pathological changes of CTE. It’s also been found in three athletes age 18 or younger. Autopsies on non-athletes have not been reported to show CTE.

Special neuroimaging studies, using MRI, reveal nerve changes in the brain following even mild concussions. The 2015 movie “Concussion,” depicting the discovery of the connection between multiple concussions and CTE, is quite persuasive.

Team sports teach important lessons for life, including character, leadership, teamwork and competition, as well as being a lot of fun. Steps can make contact sports safer, but the risk needs to be considered.

John A. Boothby, M.D.




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