According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), traumatic brain injury is a serious public health problem in the United States. Each year, traumatic brain injuries contribute to a large number of deaths and cases of permanent disability. In 2010, there were 2.5 million cases of traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain functioning. The severity can vary ranging from mild—a brief change in mental status or consciousness, such as a concussion—to severe—an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.
A new study published in the journal, Neurology, found that even mild TBI can impact patients’ cognition and brain matter. According to study authors, 90% of patients with TBI suffer from mild cases. Their goal was to further understand the immediate and after effects of these more mild cases. Using advanced imaging technology; researchers were able to determine the health of brain tissue after mild TBI. In most patients, even 12 months post-injury, there was still some damage to the brain tissue.
Of growing concern is the alarming rate at which TBIs are occurring. While automobile accidents and falls cause more than half of the 1.7 million TBIs annually, war and football are receiving their fair share of concern. According to a 2011 study, an estimated 320,000 severely brain-injured servicemen and women have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the trauma resulting from IED blasts. Recently, more than 4,500 retired NFL players who spent their careers literally banging heads sued the league and were awarded a $765 million settlement. Players accused the NFL of sweeping the dangers of head injuries under the rug.
The CDC estimates that between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. A report funded by the City of New York found that brain injuries are responsible for 74 percent of cycling deaths. Nationwide, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, roughly 600 cyclists die annually as a result of head injuries, and in 2009, roughly 85,000 cyclists ended up in emergency rooms with concussions.
The National Ski Areas Association reports that TBIs are the leading cause of skiing and snowboarding fatalities. And the numbers are trending upward. In 2004, 9,308 skiers and snowboarders suffered head injuries they deemed serious enough to visit a doctor. By 2010, that number had dramatically increased to 14,947.
Unfortunately, our bodies can’t keep up with our thrill-seeking, adrenaline-addicted personalities. While educational videos, social-media campaigns, critically acclaimed films, and more people wearing safer helmets are all undeniably positive developments, whether they lead to fewer traumatic brain injuries remains to be seen. Athletes of all types, event organizers, and coaches need to make better decisions about the parameters of their sports. Knowing that even mild brain injuries can lead to a lifetime of cognitive impairment, it’s time to rein things in a bit.