Sports-Related Brain Injury: It's Not About The Helmet

And, like a box holding an egg, no helmet in the world can protect your brain from impact injury. That's just a fact.

Scientists now know that brain injury occurs almost immediately from minor impacts, like heading the ball in soccer or taking a tackle in football. When those minor impacts happen over and over again, the injury becomes permanent.

Although extensive scientific work and study underlies these conclusions, a quick glance at our physiology shows why it makes sense. The skull is designed to be hard on the outside to protect the brain, and the inside is similarly solid. When the brain is jostled suddenly and roughly, it collides with the inside of the skull, effectively creating a bruise. Repeated brain bruising, impact after impact, day after day, causes damage that is profound and irreversible.

Called repetitive subconcussive injuries, these smaller impacts are the actual cause of brain damage leading to the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This disease is progressive, and it begins as soon as 24 hours after a brain injury. Dementia, depression, aggression, attention deficits, are just a few of the devastating signs and symptoms of CTE.

In light of these recent findings, former NFL players are calling for an end to contact football for children. Joining with researchers and others, they have launched the Concussion Legacy Foundation's Flag Football Under 14 initiative. The campaign hopes to warn parents of the dangers of repetitive subconcussive injuries. This is a necessary step, along with rule changes to avoid head impact. Importantly, legislation has been proposed in a slew of states to ban contact football involving children 12 and under.

A key question remains, however: If, as scientists now believe, CTE occurs from repetitive impacts regardless of age, should children, who by law lack judgment essential to make informed decisions about their health, ever be allowed to play impact sports?

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