“Just let them play the game!” I often find myself yelling this at the television every Saturday and Sunday. My weekends often are ritualistic in that I enjoy a nice rough game of football; whether it is collegiate or professional. In recent years however I have noticed quite a bit more laundry (penalties) on the field, because the NCAA and the NFL are really trying to limit injuries such as the ones we discussed in class. The biggest injury in football that applies to neurochemistry would have to be concussions.
Do not be fooled by the habit in the NFL of a player who has “concussion-like” symptoms only being out of playing for about a week. It was discussed that the problems cause by concussions are very real, the glucose metabolism of an individual affected with a concussion drops below normal levels from minutes after the collision and can last up to weeks after the collision. This causes immediate damage to the parts of the brain such as focus and motor skills. It is even more dangerous for a person who has already had a concussion to continue playing, because they risk having another concussion. It has become an issue among NFL retirees who dealt with multiple concussions during their careers and now have many health problems because of it.
The scarier problem is that the effects of concussions are greater on younger players. The brain continues to develop up until the mid to late twenties. This means collegiate athletes who try to mimic their NFL counterparts by only staying out for a week or two are actually putting serious risk to their future mental health. Their developing brains, whether they admit it or not, are more seriously affected by trauma than an older player.
Another interesting question is: “Why is there not a universal testing system?” Well in class it was learned that there actually is a very successful test out there that has been adopted by several major sports organizations; it is called the ImPACT test. It is a computer based system that deals with “cognitive efficiency.” The patient submits a baseline at the beginning of the season and that is a stored scored for memory, reaction time, and visual reaction. The ImPACT test, while used by the NFL, MLB, and NHL, has only been mandated by the NHL.
So concluding what to take from the neurochemistry on concussions: it affects most people differently depending on the stage of brain development, it is a large problem for most contact sports, there is a system out there to help diagnose, but just because it is available does not mean it is implemented.
I am not trying to scare people away from letting their children play sports like football, but I hope that we just pay extra attention to what is happening with their mental health as well as their physical health when we put them out on the field. They represent the minds of the future and we don’t want them being knocked around too much.