Football Concussions Have Lasting Effects

By Megan Trent

September 28, 2010 Updated Sep 28, 2010 at 7:29 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Concussion and effect. Football season is in full swing, and that means a lot of concussions and even more discussion about how to reduce the number of incidents.

That's because researchers are seeing long-term damage in not just NFL players anymore... but college and high school football players as well.

In April, lineman Owen Thomas with the University of Pennsylvania suddenly committed suicide. His autopsy showed early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, likely caused by head trauma though Thomas never had a reported injury.

Also often found in deceased NFL players, CTE can lead to depression and dementia.

A Fort Wayne emergency room doctor tells us that down the road, players can encounter problems with balance, cognitive thinking, and memory.

Trichelle Schenkel is an Athletic Trainer for Bishop Dwenger High School. She says, "The brain is something you don't see. If you get a bruise on your thigh, you know. The brain, you don't. So we have to go by what the athlete tells us and what we observe. But when things go wrong with a concussion, they can go very wrong and it can be fatal. It's better to miss one game than an entire season."

Schenkel says on the day of the concussion, the player cannot continue playing. First, they return to non-impact activities, then contact drills, and then they can play in a game. All that usually takes about five days.

At Snider High School, if symptoms persist for more than fifteen minutes, no matter the severity, the player is out for 24-hours and must be released by a doctor. After that, they must have one non-contact practice before returning to competition.

Doctors say the thousands of hits sustained by football players over the years could be enough to cause permanent damage, even without a concussion.

So when does the doctor step in and say you've had one too many injuries to play? They look at their past and current symptoms and injuries and make a decision, but it's important for the players to be honest and not just "play through it."

Last year Parkview Hospital treated 457 people ages 12 to 22 with concussions. A large majority were caused by car crashes, but some of those young people, especially around this time of year, suffered from football-related concussions.

Some suggest monitoring the number of hits to the head a football player receives, but the technology for that is expensive, and researchers don't yet know how many hits is too many.

We asked Schenkel, is football still safe to play at all? She said, "As long as your coaches are teaching the proper technique - not leading with the head, how to hit correctly, your equipment is fitted correctly, I do. I think it's a great sport, and we're continuing to learn and as we learn we adapt and continue to keep it safe so our kids can enjoy the sport."

A rule against intentional head-first contact could come down the road, but for now most high schools and colleges require at least 24-hours of rest before returning to competition after a concussion.

Perhaps no one knows a child better than a parent, so to see a list of symptoms to watch out for, just click on the link attached to this story or go under our NewsLinks tab and click on Fact Sheet for Concussions.

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