This past week in class we discussed the neurological complications of concussions. The most common occurrences of concussions occur in sports, specifically football and soccer. In fact, last year during the preseason and regular season of the NFL a total number of 217 concussions occurred. Add into this fact the numerous concussions which arise in high school and college sports the number of concussions is drastically high. Concussions are caused by a blunt impact to the head. This blunt impact interrupts the brain’s “wiring” so to speak. A concussion disturbs the normal function of neurons.
First, it is important to note that in order for a signal to be sent from the brain there must be an action potential. Action potential is the sudden rise or fall of charge within the membrane of a neuron. Now it might sound odd to say that there is charge within our cells but this charge is not like static electricity. This charge is present in the form of metal ions such as calcium or potassium inside and outside the cell. A concussion causes a depolarization of the neurons, which means that the charge housed in the cell is higher than its natural state. This causes a massive influx of calcium into the neuron. The overabundance of calcium causes potassium to be pumped outside the neuron. Due to the exchange of these ions from the outside and inside of the neuron, signaling is interrupted by a concussion.
A major complication with concussion is the state of hypoglycolysis it induces. Hypoglycolysis is a state in which cells are deprived of sugar, glucose. Without an adequate supply of energy, glucose, cells begin to die. This apoptosis of neurons is the cause of permanent damage that can result from concussions. Another complication is restricted blood flow to the brain or specific parts of the brain. This is also known ischemia, which can result in unconsciousness, stroke, and cell death.
Because of the risks associated with concussions there has been numerous research studies on improving helmets for sports and recreation. I recall the 2010 NFL season when Aaron Rodgers received multiple concussions and he appeared games later with a new helmet. That got me thinking if helmet technology alone would be enough to prevent concussions. The only problem with improving the strengths of helmets is that they can become dangerous weapons for football players. Football players could obtain the notion that, because they have an impermeable helmet, they themselves are invincible and will have less regard for the safety of their heads. Therefore, I think alternatives to helmet research would be a viable options.
One example of this alternative helmet is the invisible bicycle helmet. This “helmet” was developed by a company called Hövding. There research developed an inflatable “helmet” which is hidden in a collar which looks like a scarf. Upon a bicycling accident, such as hitting a curb and flipping your bike, the collar would activate and releases the airbag like helmet. The helmet bursts out of the collar and balloons around your head creating a protective cocoon. Although they developed the invisible bike helmet for use with bicycles only, I’m confident that sometime in the future this technology can be expanded beyond bicycles and can be applied to contact sports.
Here is a link to the Hövding website:
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