Mental Health And Concussions In American Football

American football is a very physical and mentally demanding sport that puts a lot of wear and tear on the human body no matter the age or competition. The idea of hitting people head-on with all of your force just for the sake of a game has a lot of people worried and questioning the importance of it. Concussions and the study of mental health have not been studied until recently when a connection was made between football players and head injuries, and many were calling it “The Concussion Crisis”. Studying head trauma and preventing it when the sport requires physical contact is almost an impossible thing to detect and prevent.

A concussion is known as, “a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head”. When the head is impacted the brain is pushed around and bounces off the sides of the skull, bruising and swelling the cells and causing trauma that can overall make your mental health deteriorate over time tremendously. When someone typically has a concussion, they have a headache, loss of consciousness, confusion, dizziness, etc. Each concussion is different and will appear either right away or sometimes even days later.

A diagnosis can be very difficult to diagnose and determine but it is getting better and better as the years go on. The reason they are so difficult to diagnose is because the injury cannot be seen or felt, it has no oblivious recognition like a leg or an arm dislocation. Most doctors and physicians can only determine if someone has a concussion by way of symptoms based on what the person experienced or went through during and after the blow to the head. That is what makes concussions so hard to diagnose and determine.

Treating a concussion is not very difficult, it just takes time to heal and get back to normal. Treatment involves taking pain medicine and a lot of rest mentally and physically not only from the world but also from light and other factors that might delay your concussion from healing properly. Depending on how bad the concussion is and how well you cope with it will determine overall when you will be back to normal. Concussions can take 2 weeks to heal on average, but the symptoms and headaches can last for up to 6 months. These headaches can sometimes become a big deal in people’s everyday lives determining what they can and cannot do anymore and this can ultimately lead to a post-concussion syndrome that involves headaches and symptoms for up to a year after the diagnosis.

Concussions have 5 grades that will regulate what type of concussion someone may have, stage 0 is a mild concussion that involves a little headache for up to 15 minutes at most, stage 1 is a moderate concussion that involves a headache and trouble concentrating for a little less than a minute, a grade 2 concussion is just like grade 1 but a little worse, grade 3 involves loss of consciousness for less than a minute, and a grade 4 is the worst because the person loses consciousness for longer than a minute and that can put the brain and body at risk. Recovering from a concussion has stages just like the stage in which someone’s concussion is listed and it all is dictated by how they get help and treat it. The first few days after a concussion has happened is known as the acute injury stage and is the most important according to doctors because the symptoms might change and diagnosing the concussion will get much more difficult. The 2nd stage is known as the Initial rest and recovery stage that involves a lot of resting and treatments for the concussion. The 3rd stage of the recovery process involves getting through the concussion as a whole and realizing that you are not far off from the end. Finally, the 4th and 5th steps of the recovery process involves the mountaintop which you are finally getting back to living normally and like you were before the concussion happened, the final step (5th) of recovery is the complete transition back to life and doing those things you wished you could do again.

Concussions can affect a countless variety of people ranging from peewee football players all of the way up to NFL football players. With the constant contact and force of some sports today, concussions have become a huge issue for every athlete no matter the age. While football, hockey, basketball, lacrosse, etc. are what bring this issue to light with an estimated 3. 8 million sports-related concussions occurring every year. However, these are not the only sport/profession where concussions can occur. Other actions or accidents that contribute greatly to concussions every year are car wrecks, falls, bike riding, and many other reasons. Who exactly is at risk and is more likely to get a concussion in the sports world? The CCM (Complete Concussion Management) made a list that did a study on concussion rates in sports and it found that professionally men’s rugby came in first and American Football came in second over for sports above the age of 18. Considering that NFL football is a very dangerous game that involves vicious hits to the head, concussions have been reported less and less each year, from 2017 reported concussions have fallen from 281 to 214 in 2018. According to a study done by the NFL, there are 0. 41 concussions per game and 67. 7% of those involved other player’s helmet. Not only have these studies been linked to memory loss, language difficulties, and depression but they have also been associated with aggression and violent/harmful tendencies.

There is no doubt that football is one of the most violent and physical sports in not only the US but the world. There were roughly 5. 2 million people playing football in the U. S. ranging from the age of 6 and up in 2018. Considering the sport and what it involves there are going to be a lot of injuries not only to the body but also the head. With all of those players, high school football tops the charts with 67,000 reported concussions a year and coming in at a close second with 281 reported concussions in 2017 is the NFL. The 67,000 reported concussions in high school football alone don’t even scratch the surface to the amount reported each year involving all of the other sports combined. There are an estimated 1. 6 to 3. 8 million reported concussions each year with 60% of reports coming by way of football and the rest come through other sports and recreational activities. Just one big hit or blow to the head can cause severe brain damage, CTE, and multiple brain diseases that can ultimately kill someone in the long run. Hit after hit and concussion after concussion puts a lot of stress on the brain and body overall, with each and every concussion leading to a worse recovery and worse increasing long-term symptoms. Football players are exposed to concussions from the very beginning from the time they first start playing to the time they retire or quit the game entirely. That still doesn’t help the fact they are not immune to concussions or the symptoms.

No matter what grade a football player’s concussion might be whether grade 0 or grade 5 will have detrimental effects on the brain short-term and even long-term if they keep happening. As a result of multiple concussions compounding over time to a football player’s head does not bode well with the long-term effects and the structure of the brain. Though the long-term side effects of multiple concussions are rare they still do affect a lot of players younger and younger. All football players, especially at the collegiate and professional levels, just want to play football so they either play through them or suffer the consequences or they do not give their brains enough time to heal between games that can also have harmful effects on their brains long term. The players just being eager and wanting to play with a concussion can lead to brain damage like depression, personality change, and they can even lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

In 2011 the NFL started looking into and researching concussions and linking them too hard hits during the games. That got them thinking along with the NCAA about what they can do to prevent concussions and try to protect the players and their mental health. A hypothetical scenario that grew popular when the studies began was bringing back leather helmets just football players used to wear some decades ago but as researchers began testing, they found that helmetless tackling drills reduced the number of concussions by 28%. This began the scenario that taking away the head (helmet for protection) would reduce and keep players from striking others with their helmets. Since then the NFL and the NCAA have implemented rules and regulations to protect the players and have made a monumental step in doing so.

It started by moving the kickoffs up 5 yards in 2011, which according to Robert Cantu an MD at Boston Universities CTE Center, “The kickoff is the most violent play in football”, this dropped high speed hits ultimately lowering concussion rates in football by 81%, it also began furthering athletes from getting concussions while the rule change began snowballing into other aspects of the game from there. One rule change in the NCAA and the NFL was a player hitting a defenseless player in the head or neck area (and what consequences that player will have which are disqualifying them from the remainder of the game. Some other huge impacts the NFL has had on concussion reduction is concussion testing on the sideline by team doctors and helmet testing and regulation.

The NFL as a whole began requiring players to only wear certain helmets after testing by the league proved that one-third of football players in the NFL were using helmets in the lowest prevention group while the league had around a 16% increase in head concussions a year before. This ultimately is trying to reduce the number of CTE and head traumas in the NFL along with the NCAA because further testing by the NFL found out that out of 91 players 87 of them tested positive for CTE and traumatic brain injuries. All of this testing and rule enforcement by the league has not set well with many players because it limits their visibility but overall mental health for the players is the ultimate goal in this process and that is why they are enforcing a lot of these rule changes and reinforcements.

Concussions have always been a part of contact sports like American football, but up until recently it hasn’t been put in the spotlight and not much has been known about them and the long-term effects. Since concussions have been researched and rules have been implemented by leagues across the nation football has come a lot safer and more trustworthy. While those rules have been intact concussion rates have dropped and football has become more enjoyable to play and watch. Protecting the players from permanent life-threatening brain damage is the most important thing league offices and commissioners can do for the game and the players no matter the age and that is why they must be aware of the injury as well as the symptoms and how it can affect the player. Scientific research shows that concussions have been down recently but even the new rules show that it truly is not enough to permanently eliminate concussions from the game entirely but that doesn’t mean that treatment and guidelines are not getting better as the years go on.

10 October 2020
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