Concussions: A growing public health concern | May 31, 2016

Concussions: A growing public health concern Once upon a time athletes got knocked down on the field, maybe sat on the sidelines for a few minutes and then hopped back in the game. No blood, no foul. If you could still play, it was more or less assumed that the injury was not severe. However, an increasing amount of research has revealed that these injuries can have devastating effects in the long-term.

As the data regarding the danger of head injuries – particularly in the arena of athletics – continues to pile, the topic is becoming increasingly relevant to those who work in the field of public health.

A landmark settlement

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the condition at the forefront is traumatic brain injury, or TBI. A TBI is caused by a blow, jolt or other impact to the head, which disrupts the brain’s normal function. It can range from mild injuries, which cause a brief change in consciousness or mental status, to severe injuries, which can cause long periods of unconsciousness or even instances of amnesia. The organization reported that 2.5 million TBIs occurred in 2010 alone.

The effect of concussions has reached the forefront of the public dialogue in recent years due to the discovery of latent brain injuries in former NFL players. A large number of retired athletes have experienced undiagnosed TBIs that have resulted in cognitive and emotional issues later in life. In April, an appeals court affirmed what The New York Times referred to as a “landmark settlement” when it upheld a ruling from three years ago that the NFL will compensate former players with neurological conditions linked to repeated blows to the head. Eligible retirees could be reimbursed as much as $5 million each.

“This settlement will provide nearly $1 billion in value to the class of retired players,” the appellate court stated. “It is a testament to the players, researchers and advocates who have worked to expose the true human costs of a sport so many love. Though not perfect, it is fair.”

The role of public health professionals

As the U.S. government and other governing bodies become more concerned about the long-term effect of concussions, public health professionals are expected to play an important role in ensuring the safety of the American people. This is especially true in the area of spreading awareness about the dangers of these injuries in sports, particularly among students in primary and high schools.

According to the Children’s Safety Network, a resource for professionals committed to reducing violence and injuries among children, there are a number of steps that you and others who work in public health can take to prevent sport-related concussions in this arena. These actions include identifying roles for your local department of health in education and training, working with schools to develop concussion management teams and collaborating with care providers to determine ways to more effectively identify and treat these injuries.