Concussions Down For NFL, But Not Over

With the recent Super Bowl 51 win by the Patriots, marking the end of the 2017 season, the NFL has some good news: the number of concussions has been reduced by 11.3% as compared to last season (which was a record high). Under lots of scrutiny from the medical community and society’s recent change in perception regarding concussions, the NFL has introduced several new practices in an effort to reduce the number of concussions. The practices include changing kickoffs, having more medical staff on hand at games, and limiting the number of full contact practices. In order to have more of an understanding, let’s look at what exactly a concussion is.

As defined by the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, a concussion is “ a trauma-induced change in mental status and may be associated with confusion and amnesia; it may or may not entail a brief loss of consciousness. Such injuries often follow a blow to the head or a very rapid acceleration of the head.” The NCBI demonstrates that there are 3 different types of kinematic motions that result in a concussion: centroidal, non-centroidal, or a combination of linear and rotational motion. Centroidal motion occurs when the force is applied to the center mass of the brain, like a weight being dropped on the top of the head. This is thought to cause the least amount of damage to the brain. Non-centroidal motion occurs when movement is purely rotational, like shaking the head “no”. Most often, the kinematic response of the head directly after the applied force is a combination of linear and rotational motion, which in turn leads to the higher amount of acceleration and contact with the inner cranial membrane. The neurochemistry of the brain is also affected post-concussion. According to the NCBI, “Normally, significant cellular energy is used to keep ions distributed across the plasma membranes in such a way so as to maintain a membrane potential between –40 and –80 millivolts (mVs)”. Studies also addressed in the article show that in rodents, a rapid decrease, or efflux, of potassium and glutamine, and in increase, or influx, of calcium ions, which is thought to be an attempt to restore this ionic potential. These changes resolved themselves within a relatively fast amount of time, within 2.5 minutes for less severe concussions to 6 minutes for more severe ones. It has been a point of interest in concussion diagnosis that medical personnel on the field can track and use these changes to begin to diagnose the athlete with a concussion quickly following the impact, helping important decisions by the player whether or not to go back in the game.

With the increase of concussion awareness in pop culture, like the movie Concussion that follows a doctor helping with concussions in football players, awareness has increased and many have called for action to help reduce and prevent concussions. However, this statistic from the NFL needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as this reduction is still not enough, because concussions in high school and collegiate sports are still rapidly increasing. More studies need to be done in an attempt to have more definite answers about concussion diagnosis, treatment, and long term effects.


About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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