Concussions have been a hot button topic for quite some time in the NFL. I honestly cannot remember the last time a week has gone by without a reported concussion. Just last week NFL fans witnessed Bears safety Chris Conte, Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, and Chargers running back Donald Brown leave their respective games with concussions. In the week prior to that Lions running back Joique Bell and Redskins tight end Niles Paul also suffered concussions. The NFL is putting an emphasis on concussion prevention in order to alleviate this rampant and ongoing problem. The fact is, that football is a violent sport and it frequently involves player’s heads making contact with the ground or other players with a tremendous amount of force. The biggest step that the NFL has taken is the required concussion protocol. This protocol involves evaluating every potential concussion with a physical exam and a battery of questions to determine if there are any disturbances in brain function. This test often prevents players with concussions from continuing to play. It is a step in the right direction but it does very little to prevent concussions.
The brain is made completely of soft tissue and its only real form of protection is the skull, which is separated from the brain by spinal fluid. Any sudden and direct blow to the head can cause a concussion. If the force is great enough it can even cause the brain to literally move inside the head. This is where concussion prevention in the NFL has plateaued. In the past, the NFL has put a premium on helmet innovation. This has had little success in preventing concussions. In fact, despite these awesome hi-tech helmets these players wear, concussion rates in the NFL are at an all-time high. This is in part due to the sensitivity and awareness over the issue. This is also due to the fact that the athlete’s today are bigger, stronger, and faster than the old-time leather-helmet wearing athletes. Bigger, stronger, and faster athletes tend to cause more violent collisions than their smaller, weaker, and slower predecessors.
Helmets certainly can help prevent concussions from the most minor of impacts, but truthfully the helmet has zero effect on weather the brain moves inside the head. Think about it this way. Imagine someone driving a car without a seatbelt on. The car is driving at 5 mph and gets into an accident that stops the car on impact. The person may lean forward just a bit but should be just fine when all is said and done. Now if that same accident happens at 50 mph, the driver’s body would be flung around without much control and the results would likely be devastating. Similar to our car analogy, there is space between the walls of your skull and your brain and if there is an impact forceful enough to cause the brain to move it can contact the walls of the skull. Unfortunately there is no seat belt we can put around our brains. Now for argument’s sake, imagine adding a helmet around our cars. Maybe this would prevent some damage to the car itself, but would it prevent your body from being flung when the car goes from 50 mph to 0 mph on impact? I don’t think so.
Let’s play a game: The what if game. What if you had players play football without helmets, how would the game look? I’m guessing you would have a few knuckleheads here or there that play the game just like they always have, but a majority of the players would most likely play the game slower and more cautiously. There is going to be concussions in any game that involves contact like football does, but the true problem isn’t the helmets, it isn’t the kickoff rules, or the rules for tackling over the middle. The problem is the game has gotten too fast. Maybe it’s time we slow it down a little bit. Just some food for thought.
If you have sustained a sports related injury, contact our specialists at Orthopedic Surgery San Diego for an assessment.