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Providers Weigh in: Contact Sports a Risk Worth Taking?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

As opinions continue to circulate about the recent decision of San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Chris Borland to retire after just one year in the NFL, many are applauding what they call smart, brave, and gutsy. Borland, 24, came to this decision after suffering from concussions throughout his professional and amateur career. After consulting with researchers, former players, and scheduling baseline tests to monitor his neurological well-being going, Borland affirmed his decision to retire. The question moving forward is what impact this will have on athletes and their organizations?

Matthew Marcus Orthopedic Surgery
Matthew S. Marcus, M.D.
Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine

Brain injuries have been prominent in professional sports as nearly 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur each year in the United States. Some brain injuries are mild, with symptoms disappearing over time with proper attention. Others are more severe and may result in permanent disability. The long-term or permanent results of brain injury may require post-injury and possibly lifelong rehabilitation.

Dr. Matthew Marcus, assistant professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at UI Health says, "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) can develop from repeated head trauma. Athletes who develop this condition may experience symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia."

"I think that Chris Borland's decision is one that many athletes, particularly football players, now face. It is personal one that needs to be made by the athlete after reviewing all the information available to them. For Chris, he felt that the risk of developing problems later on in life was not worth continuing to play football; other players may feel that it is worth it. Not all players will develop CTE; there are many former football players who have not developed CTE and have successful careers after their playing days."

Dr. Marcus adds these tips to help prevent CTE:

  • Athletes should inform his or her coach or trainer immediately when they get hit in the head.
  • If hit, the athlete should go through the sideline tests to see if they are okay to return to play.
    (A visual recognition and reaction time test)
  • The worst thing an athlete can do is not let someone know about their head injury.
  • Players should learn proper techniques for contact sports, such as tackling in football.
  • It is important to teach the young players good techniques early, so they won't develop bad habits that may be difficult to correct later on.