Traumatic brain injury can occur without a direct blow to the skull when the head either spins rapidly or accelerates quickly and then stops quickly. These rotational or acceleration/deceleration forces cause the jello-like brain to be thrown around against the sharp surfaces inside the skull and can damage the brain. One example of how this can occur that has garnered much media attention lately is when a football player tackles another player causing the other player’s head to rapidly accelerate and then decelerate.
The National Football League and Congress have both held hearings on head injuries which can cause memory loss, confusion, nausea, blurred vision and long-term neurological effects, including symptoms of dementia, headaches and concentration problems. A study commissioned by the NFL in 2009 reported that former NFL players have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory problems 19 times more than the normal rate for men between 30 and 49. And pathologists who have examined the brains of ex-athletes have found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurological disease that patients get after sustaining repeated head injuries.
So, why is it so hard for some folks, including some medical professionals, to understand that a motor vehicle crash which causes the vehicle occupant’s head to rapidly accelerate and decelerate can result in the occupant suffering a traumatic brain injury even if he or she did not strike his or her head inside the vehicle? Who thinks a 200 lbs. safey in the NFL hits harder than a big truck traveling 45 mph?
The only valid point that can be made by those who argue that the NFL’s concussion crisis is different than the epidemic of often undiagnosed concussions caused by motor vehicle crashes, is that NFL players often suffer multiple concussions, the cumulative effects of which can be devastating.