Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injury

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Nearly 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur each year in the United States.1 Athletes involved in sports such as football, hockey and boxing are at significant risk of TBI due to the high level of contact inherent in these sports. Head injuries are also extremely common in sports such as cycling, baseball, basketball and skateboarding. Unfortunately, many sports head injuries lead to permanent brain damage or worse. TBI, is the leading cause of death in sports-related accidents.

Players who have sustained a traumatic brain injury require immediate medical attention and, if permanent damage results, often need ongoing care, which can be very expensive. Many traumatic brain injury patients and their families suffer financial hardship due to injury-related expenses.

High School Sports and Traumatic Brain Injury

While moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries are usually obvious, seemingly mild head injuries often go undetected. Because they usually fall under the category of closed head injury, as opposed to open head injury (in which the skull has been penetrated), damage caused by these injuries is not visibly apparent — nor is it visible in computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scans.  They however can be detected using SPECT brain studies, which can help in diagnosing which part of the brain has been affected and help with treatment. Parents should be aware that many young athletes, as well as older athletes, hide their symptoms or pain in order to continue playing, despite being injured. For this reason, some players do not reach full recovery and experience devastating brain damage.  SPECT studies, however eliminate this variable, because you actually see how the brain is functioning.

The failure to detect and treat a TBI is particularly harmful to younger athletes, because teenagers do not have fully developed brain tissue, head injuries sustained among high school athletes often lead to detrimental damage. Injuries suffered at this stage of development can cause longer-lived symptoms and create vulnerability to further damage if another injury occurs, not to mention significant decline in school performance, mood disorders, worsening of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and impulsive and violent behavior.