Nearly 330,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur each year in the United States. Athletes involved in sports such as football, hockey, and boxing are at significant risk of TBI. Head injuries are also prevalent in sports such as cycling, wrestling, and baseball. Many sports head injuries lead to permanent brain damage or worse. TBI remains the leading cause of death in sports-related accidents.
Players who have sustained a TBI require immediate medical attention and, if permanent damage results, often need expensive, ongoing care. Many traumatic brain injury patients and their families suffer financial hardship due to injury-related expenses.
High School Sports
Approximately 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries in people under 18 years old are a result of sports-related accidents. While moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries are usually obvious, seemingly mild head injuries often go undetected. As a result, doctors are often forced to rely solely on reported symptoms.
Unfortunately, many players hide their symptoms or pain to continue playing. For this reason, some players do not reach full recovery and experience devastating brain damage.
The failure to detect and treat a TBI is particularly harmful to younger athletes as Injuries suffered at an early stage of development can cause longer, more persistent symptoms and create vulnerability to further damage if another injury occurs.
Eighty to ninety percent of all traumatic brain injury is classified as mild. The incidence of mild TBI is 600 per 100,000 however due to lack of recognition and missed diagnoses this number may be twice as high. ‘Normal’ or expected recovery occurs from one to two weeks but could last as long as three months. Unfortunately, up to 20% of people with a concussion or mild TBI will continue to experience significant symptoms beyond three months.
Some people have these troublesome symptoms for much longer.These symptoms include a post-traumatic headache, sleep disturbances, disorders of balance, cognitive impairments, fatigue and mood disorders. Even though there is substantial media exposure for military and sports injuries, there still is not enough awareness and education about how to recognize, diagnose and treat a concussion. Research is showing that repeated concussions can lead to late brain degeneration with clinical deficits indistinguishable to Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, many high school players fail to recognize the signs of a traumatic brain injury or downplay their symptoms in order to continue playing. The American Journal of Sports Medicine estimates three to four concussions occur each year in an average 50-player high school football team.
Second Impact Syndrome
One of the most dangerous potential aftereffects of TBI is second impact syndrome or brain swelling that occurs after an athlete has suffered a second concussion before the first concussion has fully healed. This can result in the death of brain cells, in turn leading to possibly severe and permanent brain damage.Some have died from second impact syndrome.Therefore it is very dangerous to continue playing any sport once a brain injury is sustained.
Patients who have sustained one concussion are four times more likely to sustain another. Some well-known football players have suffered several concussions over the course of their careers, including NFL quarterback Troy Aikman, who racked up more than ten concussions.
Once an athlete has sustained a head injury, each subsequent traumatic brain injury needs more time for recovery. Subsequent injuries may cause more severe damage. Brain damage caused by multiple concussions is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.A new study by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee examined the brains of 202 deceased football players and found that 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Reversal of Traumatic Brain Injury through Individualized Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
A novel, innovative technology has emerged in the last few years called individualized transcranial magnetic stimulation (iTMS). iTMS can take individuals suffering from mild to moderate TBI and over a 4 to 6-week period, reverse the majority of their symptoms. iTMS consists of a strong, pulsating magnetic field applied to the front half of the brain in most cases. It is wholly non-invasive and painless.
Initial relief from concussion symptoms such as mental confusion, fatigue, irritability or sensitivity to light, happens in the first few days. Sleep patterns, which are usually disturbed in TBI, begin to normalize after a few days of deep, restorative sleep induced by the iTMS.
The effectiveness of iTMS for TBI was discovered by accident in treating Veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As the Veterans improved in their PTSD, it was noticed that their TBI symptoms from blast exposure during the war also improved. This led to small clinical trials where the patients only suffered from TBI, showing that almost 80% had total resolution of symptoms, and only those suffering from severe TBI had a partial resolution of symptoms. At last, there is treatment and hope for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
More information on this new technology and medical protocol at iSychrony.
Lorraine C. Silvetz, MSW is Director of iSynchrony based in Oakton, VA and Executive Director of Global Stress Initiative a program for the treatment of veterans and their families launched in 2010 under the auspices of the International Committee Against Mental Illness (ICAMI) which is led by Robert Cancro, MD, Chairman Emeritus of NYU Langone's Department of Psychiatry.