Evidence is piling up that concussions aren’t just caused by a one blow to the head, by can be the result of many hits over a period of time.
A two-year study conducted by Purdue University supports what traumatic brain injury experts such as myself have been seeing anecdotally, as in the 2009 death of Chris Henry. A Cincinnati Bengal receiver, 26-year-old Henry was never diagnosed with a concussion. But after his death, tests determined that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a progressive brain disease that’s been linked to repeated head injury.
The Purdue research involved football players from Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind., according to ScienceDaily. There were 21 players involved in one season, and 24 in the next season, with 16 of the players being the same in both seasons.
Data on impact on their brains was collected through helmet sensors, according to ScienceDaily. The research entailed doing brain scans and cognitive tests at the start of, during and following each season.
The major finding was that a concussion can result from the cumulative effect of all the hits, the so-called sub-concussions, a player sustained during an entire season.
“The one hit that brought on the concussion is arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back,” ScienceDaily quoted associate professor Eric Nauman, an expert on the central nervous system.
In fact, the CBS station in Chicago reported that the high school players who didn’t have full-blown concussions “suffered greater cognitive impairment” than those with official concussions.
The brain scans on players found that they were altering their “mental processes to deal with brain changes,” according to ScienceDaily. In fact, the amount of change in a player’s MRI was directly related to the amount of blows a player took to the head, and where those blows landed.
In other words, contrary to conventional wisdom, an athlete’s brain can get pretty screwed up even if he or she isn’t showing any symptoms of a concussion. Henry was a perfect example of that.
He was much like other NFL players who were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths, according to The New York Times. He had a lot of personal problems that could have been caused by his illness, whose symptoms include depression and drug abuse.
In one two-year period Henry was arrested five times, on charges ranging from drunk driving to assault. He was suspended several times by the NFL, The Times reported.
He was killed on Dec. 17, 2009, when he jumped off of or fell off the back of a truck that his fiancee was driving in Charlotte, N.C. He died of head injuries, but those had nothing to do with his CTE diagnosis. according to The Times.
So even though Henry had never been diagnosed with a concussion, he certainly had sustained brain damage, the CTE.
“So it’s more than just moments of trauma,” the CBS station said. “It’s the game itself.”
When, or how, will the NFL eventually deal with that?