Final Project: Concussions

Dizziness, headaches, and sleeping issues are just some of the tell tale signs, or as experts say, neural precursors of a concussion.  Over the past few years concussions have become a significant issue in the world of athletics.  Like most injuries, concussions can either be severe or mild.  They can last months, weeks, or even as few as a few days.  They can be of little significance or they could mean the difference between life and death.  However, the questions is what is the neurological cause of this puzzling condition?

One of the reasons that concussions have become such a great focus of our attention is because of their impact in the game we all so truly love, football.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million teenage football players suffer brain injuries, most of which consist of concussions, each year.  Effects have been even worse. Grantland writer, Jonah Lehrer reports that athletes who had suffered three or more concussions were nearly “ten times more likely to exhibit multiple “abnormal” responses to head injury, including loss of consciousness and persistent amnesia.  He also described how a 2004 study revealed that “football players with multiple concussions were 7.7 times more likely to experience a “major drop in memory performance” and that three months after a concussion they continued to experience “persistent deficits in processing complex visual stimuli.” What’s most disturbing, Jonah writes, is that these cognitive deficits have a real-world impact: When compared with similar students without a history of concussions, athletes with two or more brain injuries demonstrate statistically significant lower grade-point averages”.

Normal Brain vs. Concussed Brain

Normal Brain vs. Concussed Brain

When we, as observers and bystanders, see these numbers and shocking effects it prompts us to ask why we even play this game? Are we to sacrifice our long term well being for short term success and glory?

There are three ways concussions could occur.  Firstly, there could be a focal impact concussion where the brain was hurt wherever it was directly hit.  Next, the concussion might have occurred due to no direct impact on the brain or head, which can be described as a linear concussion.  Angular concussions result from a twist of the head, which ends up splitting the spinal cord and brain stem.  This hurts the Corpus Callosum which separates the cerebellum and the brain stem. In simple terms it affects the back side of your head near your spinal cord. Funnily enough, the most frequent concussion occurs from a combination of linear, focal, and angular concussions.

Now what is the science behind a concussion? When a football player is involved in a head to head collision the first thing that happens is that the cortex, which is very mushy and somewhat jelly-like, is shoved into the skull. Due to the fact that the brain is unable to feel pain directly, a direct impact can shove the cortex through the protective cerebrospinal fluid and into the cranium. A few moments, specifically milliseconds, after a person gets a concussion, Jonah Lehrer writes that “neurotransmitters are released as billions of brain cells turn themselves on at the exact same time”.

The Brain looks like scrambled eggs once it is concussed

The Brain looks like scrambled eggs once it is concussed

He goes on to describe that “this frenzy of activity leads to a surge of electricity, an unleashing of the charged ions contained within neurons”. It’s as if the brain is pouring out its power. This is why if you have ever seen someone receive a helmet to helmet hit in a football game the athlete immediately collapses to the ground.  The energy is sapped out of their mind, and they are at the risk of blanking out.  Even one concussion, as the journal Radiology reports, could cause permanent damage.  Dr. Yvonne W. Lui, Neuroradiology section chief and assistant professor of radiology at NYU Langone School of Medicine reported that “Two of the brain regions affected were the anterior cingulate and the precuneal region,” Dr. Lui said. “The anterior cingulate has been implicated in mood disorders including depression, and the precuneal region has a lot of different connections to areas of the brain responsible for executive function or higher order thinking.” Some patients receive long term damage to these parts just after minor blows to the head”.

The red regions shows the anterior cingulate and precuneal region in a picture of a damaged concussed brain

The red regions shows the anterior cingulate and precuneal region in a picture of a damaged concussed brain

Concussions largely effect the brain on a molecular level as well. They do this by effecting the function of neurons which help control the function of the whole brain.  Some things that happen according to the XLNT brain Sport Sports Concussion management “include the release of toxic excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamine, increased metabolic energy demands to assist with the cell recovery, and the inability to regulate electrolytes.  All of these things have the ability to accumulate over time and make it harder to fully recover from a concussion.

Recovery from a concussion is even tougher.  After having a concussion for a little while cells start to attempt to recuperate and regain form and equilibrium.  This process could take anywhere from a several hours to a few months. The body and brain actually try to instill side effects like making bright lights painful in order to make the brain be used to think as little as possible. In order to effectively have your brain heal after a concussion there must be no barriers or interruptions during the arduous healing process due to the fragility of the wounded brain. Interestingly, concussions lead to energy starved neurons. These energy starved neurons need to be kept in a stable condition for proper healing.  A small impact during healing on the head can lead to as Jonah Lehrer puts its it, “a devastating molecular cascade”.  Just a small second hit during recovery lead brain cells to commit suicide which results in an unrecoverable loss of neurons.  Scientists nowadays are finding cutting edge techniques in which they could test whether people are truly recovered from their concussions.  Dr. Neselius from the University of Gothenburg is one of these leading researches who has found out that testing the cerebrospinal fluid in a person’s brain can show if they have healed or not.  Her studies show that most people never truly recover from concussions before getting the permission to return to daily activities.

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From top right to top left to bottom right to bottom left: This is a zoomed in picture of a person’s concussed brain and how concussions are simply caused by an impact to a very small part. It can be compared to burning a small part of your body, sapping all life and energy from the region.

With the recent lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA due to concussion problems, it is evident that in the future years these brain injuries will be given even more importance.

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Kahn, K. (2014, January 9). Teen concussions increase risk for depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109175502.htm
  2. The science behind concussions. (n.d.). Concussion Facts. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from http://www.xlntbrain.com/concussions/science
  3. Lehrer, J. (2012, January 19). The Fragile Teenage Brain. Grantland. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from http://grantland.com/features/jonah-lehrer-concussions-adolescents-future-football/
  4. Radiological Society of North America. (2013, March 12). Single concussion may cause lasting brain damage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130312092642.htm
  5. University of Gothenburg. (2014, May 27). Recovery from sports-related concussion slower than believed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527114501.htm

 

Why I chose my project?

Due to my long involvement in sports I have always been concerned with the threat of brain injuries.  In recent years, the brain injury called concussion has risen as one of the formost physical threats to athletes everywhere. Through my project I hope to to  convey that concussions are not just a short term injury.  Additionally, I hope to illustrate how athletes and people need to spend more time knowing the true damage the concussion can pose towards one’s brain. I chose to write an essay as it is the most effective way to explain one’s thoughts and ideas in a comprehensive manner.  For this topic, it is important to cover all edges and unlike artisitc displays the best way to describe concussions is to write about them.

5 responses to “Final Project: Concussions”

  1. Carlos Aizenman says:

    Interesting report on a topic important to many athletes. Are there any treatments that might speed recovery from a concussion? Or is it just a matter of waiting it out?

  2. Joonho Jo says:

    Great essay on concussions! Did you find that had anything about a concussed player playing again and what that might do to the future of the player’s life?

  3. Aroosa Cheema says:

    That was an interesting report on a very topical issue. Is research being done on methods of decreasing recovery time to get people safely back to their daily lives faster?

  4. Saachi Gopal says:

    I enjoyed reading your essay on an imperative topic! It was very informative yet interesting!

  5. Laura Kloepper says:

    What is it they’re testing for in the cerebrospinal fluid to test for concussion healing?

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