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Latest concussion study suggests effects still there when symptoms subside

The National Football League (NFL) is quickly making its way towards the end of the regular season. Lucky teams will prepare for playoff games, dreaming of making it to the Super Bowl. One thing is for sure: the hitting will certainly pick up in intensity the further a team progresses.

There was a time when that fact did not phase the gladiators of the gridiron. The theme of the game was wipe a little dirt on it and get back out there. Those days are long gone. Instead there are 15 yard penalties for anything resembling a jarring hit. Old timers think the game has gone soft while the league is trying to do their due diligence to protect players.

Much of this has come as part of the concussion lawsuits brought against the league by former players. The players recently received a large settlement, which was negotiated by the owners to stave off a bigger payoff down the road. At the crux of the matter was the players belief that the owners knew of the long term effect of concussions.

Studies have shown that many former players are victims of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a condition that can lead to dementia and thoughts of suicide. Several players, including Chicago Bears Dave Duerson and former San Diego Charger Junior Seau, took their lives as a result of the condition, doctors say.

With that said, there has been a connection established with hard hits and long term issues in NFL players. It is the reason that the owner made a preemptive strike in the court battle, to head off a big bill down the road. But what of the short term implication of concussions?

The league has made changes to how they handle the injury, pulling players out of the game and subjecting them to analysis by an impartial physician. Almost no one gets back in a game, but some are back in the lineup a week or two later. A new study says that this maybe another problem for the league.

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health and was published in the “neurology” journal. It took 50 normal human beings and compared them with 50 others that had experienced a concussion. It should be noted these were not high level athletes, but rather regular folks. The results are a bit scary.

The study found that the people who had concussions saw their symptoms fade away in a few weeks to a month. That would seem to coincide with the timelines seen in the NFL. However, the researchers took it a step further, giving the patients new brain scans which are not widely used. Those scans found that four months later, concussion damage to the brain was still lingering.

This damage was not noted on the normal scans used, but this new scanner picked it up. The study stated, “While concussion symptoms were reduced by up to 27 percent four months after injury, brain scans of those with concussions showed abnormalities in the frontal cortex area of both sides of the brain. These abnormalities may have resulted from changes in location of fluid around brain cells or changes in the shape of certain brain cells in response to damage.”

That is a scary thought to consider for the modern athlete. When average folks who incur a concussion are showing problems four months after the fact, it leaves one to wonder what is happening to an athlete doing this on a daily basis. It is also frightening in that most times folks are feeling symptom free. The dizziness and blurred vision are gone, but some unseen effect still lingers.

The athlete goes back on the field two weeks later, feeling he is cleared to play. One has to think that the NFL will try and be proactive if this study is found to have merit. One generation of players has already sued the league. They certainly do not want to go down that path again.