Should We Restrict Athletes From Competing If They’ve Had Multiple Concussions?

Concussion awareness is on the rise among high school and college sports. More and more athletes are being required to take baseline tests such as the ImPACT. Coaches and trainers are paying more attention to when their athletes take a big hit and should be checked out.

 

These are all great things, but many schools and teams are also starting to put a limit on the number of concussions an athlete can sustain before they are restricted from competing. For safety reasons, this seems extremely logical. Researchers suspect that sustaining multiple concussions can negatively impact cognitive function later in life. However, as an athlete myself, it is very difficult to imagine someone else telling me that I am no longer able to play my sport.

Before I get too far into this debate, it’s important to know what a concussion is and how it affects the brain. A concussion occurs when there is an impact or jolt that causes the brain the collide into the walls of the skull. This can cause the brain to swell or bleed, possibly leading to serious cognitive complications. The brain also experiences a shift in ionic flux, resulting in an increased demand for the body to produce ATP, the body’s energy currency. ATP is used to transport ions in and out of cells. When ionic levels are thrown off balance, the body has to work harder than normal to restore them back to normal. This can put additional stress on the brain as it tries to keep up ATP production with the demands of the injury. Researchers think this may be why you experience headaches and other symptoms of concussions.

In contact sports, a major concern is that athletes are exposed to repetitive head trauma. Repeated blows to the head can have serious long term consequences. For example, many retired NFL players have developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disorder induced by repeated head trauma. The associated cognitive decline is a gradual process. Thus, symptoms develop long after the injuries. Many of those affected have turned to substance abuse and suicide as a result. Therefore, this is a serious issue for athletes especially of contact sports, and I do agree it is important that we do everything we can to protect them.

Many of my non-athlete friends, and even my athlete friends who have never sustained a concussion have said they agree with the standards being implemented to restrict athletes from competing after a certain number of sustained concussions. They say it’s not worth the risk to keep playing. I completely agree. However, it is hard to imagine someone else telling me what I can and cannot do. As an athlete, I have developed a type of self-awareness, knowing my body’s limits and how much I can handle. For someone else to tell me I am unable to continue playing my sport would be incredibly difficult to agree and come to terms with.

My point here is: while it is important that schools monitor the health of the athlete’s, I think their own thoughts and perspectives should be taken into account. After all, they are the ones who may lose something they are passionate about, not the people who are restricting them.