Mit Reklaw’s Truth on Sportspeople and Brain Damage

As modern sports become rougher, tougher and more intensely battled, it seems the people who play them, are becoming stupider, cockier and less conscious of personal well-being. Concussion. That is the word for the day. Need another? Repeated concussion. This form of injury is plaguing today’s sportspeople and the worst thing, most of them are not even aware that it’s happening.

            One would be forgiven for believing this form of injury is exclusive to players of contact sports; as previously stated, I forgive you. While head trauma, or concussion, is also prominent  in other sports, the main problem here is that because players don’t expect they will ever sustain a concussion, they are unaware of it when the injury does befall them. You might be thinking, ‘But that’s just silly, of course someone knows when they’ve been concussed, their noggin hurts’, or some other misguided interpretation; but the alarming fact is, it is thought that over half of all head trauma cases go undetected, thus untreated.

On the topic of treatment, there is no pill or medicine to take for concussion; all one has to do, is not do what they were doing. Example given: an equestrian competitor takes a fall from his horse, what’s the first thing he does? He follows the adage of course – gets right back in the saddle. Moments later he falls again. This time he’s knocked unconscious. Most likely, this competitor has now suffered permanent brain damage. The reality is, in that first fall the rider collided with the ground so heavily that although his skull contacted nothing, his brain contacted his skull. This caused contusions on the surface of the brain. Allowed time to heal, this kind of trauma is harmless. A similar injury only minutes after the first; brain cells die, brain tissue undergoes wasting – this is permanent. The following week this rider takes another fall. The next week, another. Week after that, it happens again.

He can’t work it out.

Those two concussions he sustained the previous week affected, among other things, his equilibrium so now, this equestrian champion’s sense of balance; in fact his entire sense of coordination is impaired. He might work past this, but it will likely involve years of practice; years of learning something at which, although he was last week adept, on account of two concurrent head knocks his brain has effectively forgotten this ability.

Other non-contact sports where head trauma is a feature include: hockey, squash and football to name only a few.

As one would imagine though, contact sports are where the aforementioned injury occurs most frequently. Rugby union, rugby league, gridiron and ice hockey are just four of the worst offenders. In rugby union when a player sustains head trauma, team doctors impose a routine stand-down period of six weeks. Neurologists recommend at least eight. In rugby league if the same injury occurs, the player is usually back on the field a fortnight later – three weeks if the knock was particularly severe. Therefore, when this player finds himself trapped in the bottom of a ruck fending off errant elbows, knees and boots to the head – the head of his already traumatized brain – he can only hope that come time to talk to the media, it will not be his speech that is affected.

Similar to the rest of the human body, the brain takes time to heal. The difference is that a sprained wrist, a torn hamstring or stretched ligament of the knee, disallowed appropriate healing time, is not going to pose the same level of detriment to the player as an insipid brain. The brain is a computer. Our brain is our personal computer. Without our computers we would cease to function – would cease to exist. More care needs to be taken with brain trauma in sports; indeed, more knowledge needs to be gleaned.

After all, in this modern age where computer science is at the forefront, shouldn’t we be taking better care of our own?

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