Parents and the players of contact sports alike share serious concerns over the long-term effects of even minor bumps, bruises, and jostles to the head, neck, and skull. While several generations ago people would have shrugged off strong impacts to the skull as “getting one’s bell rung”, research is beginning to uncover a mechanism of injury that makes such an approach to concussions and traumatic brain injuries seem rather short-sighted and cavalier.
As we recently blogged about, a University of Pennsylvania study concluded that there is simply no such thing as a mild brain injury. The study found that even seemingly minor brain injuries are the result of diffuse axonal injuries. While the brain can heal from some traumas, repeated or particularly violent impacts can reduce this ability and trigger the release of protein-destroying enzymes that lead to the structural degradation and destruction of axons.
A recently released study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) regarding a 25-year-old deceased college football player illustrates that the damage from repeated concussive or sub-concussive contact may have more dire and immediate effects than previously believed.
JAMA Study Shows “Widespread CTE Pathology…Unusual in Such a Young Football Player”
The 25-year-old former college football player had passed away due to cardiac arrest caused by Staphylococcus aureus endocarditis. After his death, a relative provided consent to participate in the study. The man’s brain was studied pathologically as part of the ongoing Understanding Neurological Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy (UNITE) study. The man was determined to have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) despite his young age.
The man had a family history of depression and addiction, but successfully attended school and played football for much of his life until his early to mid-college years. In all, the man had played about 16 years of football as a linebacker beginning his competitive play at age 6. The man played Division I college football for three seasons although he was redshirted (sat out) for one year. During the course of his life and playing career, it is believed that the man suffered at least 10 concussions with the first occurring at age eight. The man was never hospitalized from the brain injuries he sustained while playing football.
According to the study, the man apparently suffered a particularly severe brain injury during his freshman year of Division I ball where he lost consciousness. The man experienced post-concussive symptoms such as insomnia, blurry vision, tinnitus, anxiety, and memory and concentration difficulties. Despite these problems, the man returned to play and did not cease playing football until the start of his junior year of college.
From this point on, the man’s condition began to deteriorate rapidly. Despite a rather stellar academic record in high school and earlier in college, he failed out with a cumulative GPA of 1.9 and less than a standard semester away from graduation. Reports indicate that he had difficulty maintaining any job and eventually turned to cannabis to sleep and to treat his anxiety and severe headaches. The study also indicates that around his 23rd year, his character changed significantly and he became abusive to his wife while simultaneously becoming significantly more dependent on her.
While past studies have discovered focal lesions associated with CTE in players as young as 17, this study is remarkable because “the widespread CTE pathology… is unusual in such a young football player.” The study is also remarkable because of the lack of delay that is usually associated with a TBI and the potential subsequent onset of CTE. While the study does not permit its authors to estimate the likelihood of CTE in similar circumstances, it does suggest that “that CTE should be considered in the differential diagnosis of a young adult with extensive repetitive head impact exposure and persistent mood and behavioral symptoms.”
This study provides further evidence that repeated concussive and sub-concussive blows to the head can cause serious medical problems later in life including CTE. Unfortunately it appears that the onset of these problems, in at least some cases, may occur more rapidly than previously believed.
Has a Loved One Suffered a Life-Altering Brain Injury or Series of Concussions?
If you loved one has been impacted or lost his or her life due to TBIs, concussions or other brain injuries the Philadelphia wrongful death lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm may be able to fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 today.