Young football players may shrug off head (and body) blows as "part of the game," but players who sustain a series of even small head bumps may be at increased risk of long-term brain damage.
Boston (Vocus) November 19, 2009 -- Young football players may shrug off head (and body) blows as "part of the game." But players who sustain a series of even small head bumps may be at increased risk of long-term brain damage, according to the editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. In an upcoming issue of the newsletter, Dr. Michael C. Miller urges parents to be aware of the risks.
A Congressional hearing in October called attention to the long-term effects of head injury in professional football. During the hearing, the commissioner of the National Football League pointed out that more than 4 million children play football for their school teams or in organized programs, some beginning as young as age 6.
Head blows can be dangerous at any age. Upon impact, the brain accelerates very quickly inside the head, then decelerates just as quickly as it bangs into the skull. Nerve cells stretch, fraying connections between nerve cells. All of this causes a short-term disturbance in brain structure and function. And if two severe head injuries occur in a short span of time--sometimes called "second-impact syndrome"--the outcome can be catastrophic, with brain swelling and death.
Perhaps less well-known are the problems caused by repeated smaller impacts over time, even those not severe enough to cause concussion. These increase the risk for a variety of problems later in life, including depression, poor motivation and concentration, and difficulty with learning and memory.
Professional football players are at particular risk because the typical player--over the course of a high school, college, and pro career--will encounter thousands, if not tens
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