04 January, 2011

Impact of regular concussions obtained from violent contact sports:

Big hits and are an exciting - and terrifying - part of physical contact sports like American Football and rugby. However, the long-term effects of concussions - (which are a direct result of big hits) - can be devastating.
Fred McNeill: not the man he was in his NFL days
Dr. Sanjay Gupta - CNN's Chief Medical Correspondant has conducted an investigation into the long-term effects of concussions in top level professional sport - specifically the United States' favourite sport; American Football and the NFL. Dr. Sanjay spoke to former NFL linebacker Fred McNeill (who made two Super Bowl appearances with the Minnesota Vikings in 1975 & '77). Mr. McNeill (pictured left) says that upon receiving one of his most severe concussions, he felt dizzy for three weeks afterwards. Mr. McNeill has indeed paid a severe price for his "art" - which was to deliver massive hits on opponents. Mr. McNeill has said that he suffers regularly from clinical depression and severe memory loss. He says he has no idea whether he will remember speaking to Dr. Sanjay within days of their conversation ending. Then there are the mood swings which often manifest as rage - and Fred's regret afterwards. Mr. McNeill's wife Tia says the person she married is "not the same man" as the man she knows today. Mr. McNeill says he has considered suicide more than once. While this is often said as a meaningless platitude - in Fred McNeill's case, his words seem sincere. Fred McNeill felt it was all his own fault - but it wasn't.

CNN's Chief Medical Correspondant: Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Ann McKee MD: Associate Professor of Neurology:
Boston University School of Medicine

When other former NFL stars started reporting memory loss, bouts of depression, rage and other symptoms similar to Fred McNeill's, doctors started to take notice. Could regular concussions be the common denominator? Researchers at Boston University Medical School have started looking deep into the brain and spinal chord of former professional athletes to find out. They have compared a normal brain to that of a 45 year-old former NFL player. The brain of the 45 year-old former NFL player was in fact found to be comparable to that of a 70 year-old's brain - a 70 year-old with dementia. Dr. Ann McKee of Boston Universty Med. School has said: "This level of change is basically unheard of in a 45 year-old's brain." Doctors have diagnosed the condition as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. These changes mentioned by Dr. McKee are directly associated with rage, depression and memory problems.

The National Football League (NFL) provided the following statement: 
"What we're trying to prevent is multiple concussions without recovery. We know there are long-term effects of concussion but they have not been fully characterized. The whole goal of the NFL is when in doubt, sit them out."
Co-Chair NFL Head,
Neck and Spine Medical Committee

Former Leinster & Ireland rugby international hooker Bernard Jackman (pictured below): had to retire from the sport in 2010 due to overly frequent concussions. He said he had been thinking about retirement from playing rugby for months and that after being regularly concussed, he couldn't walk up a stairs without falling over. He also suffered other side effects, such as severe headaches and nausea. Jackman said that in July every year, during pre-season, the club's medical team does cognitive tests with players and their results are recorded. If a player gets concussion whilst playing, he needs to get within 10% of his cognitive test score to be allowed to play again.
Bernard Jackman (centre of photo): too many big hits
However, there is no incentive for a player to score highly on a pre-season cognitive test, so players who do not want to miss games - can very easily cheat the system - to the detriment of their own health later on down the line. Jackman said that a few months before the end of the 2009 - '10 season, his symptoms reached a head and after forgetting where he was whilst on the rugby pitch, he told Leinster Head Coach (at the time) Michael Cheika that it was time for him to call it a day. Cheika, unsurprisingly, didn't take the revelation well and said that Jackman was letting his team-mates down. He also advised for Jackman to give it 24 hours and to talk things over with other senior players before he made a final decision. Jackman did that and was pleased to find out that top players such as Brian O'Driscoll backed the hooker's decision to call it a day. Jackman says that Cheika has not spoken to him since that day but the Carlow native has more pressing concerns - such as his long-term mental health - to worry about.

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