The truth about sports concussions

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Sep 9, 2016, 9:19 AM | Updated: Sep 13, 2016, 11:23 am


While football bears the brunt of the blame for sports head injuries, the Brain Injury Association of America reports cycling actually causes more concussions for children and adolescents 5 to 18. Football is second, followed by basketball, playground injuries and soccer.

With fall sports underway for children and teens, it is important to know concussions are not limited to football players.

All ages and types of athletes might be better protected against concussions and head injuries in the future, thanks to ongoing research at Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix. The biomedical research center spent the past three years collecting samples and data as part of a research partnership with Arizona State University’s Football Program and Riddell, the leading football helmet manufacturer.

Even though the damaging effects of sports head trauma has been big news over the past few years, it remains an area of limited medical research. New rules enacted by the National Football League in July makes teams subject to fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly the loss of draft picks if they fail to take players out of games after sustaining a concussion.

A major part of the TGen-led research has been baseline testing of Sun Devil football student-athletes who volunteered to participate in this research combined with player head impact data collected through Riddell’s Sideline Response System (SRS). The objective is to develop a definitive test that will objectively define when an athlete is injured.

Dr. Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen, associate professor for neurogenomics at TGen is a co-leader of the study. She explains the baseline testing also helps doctors in the recovery and rehabilitation process. Comparing test results with the pre-injury baseline enables physicians to determine the level of recovery.

Age and concussion

When it comes to football and other contact sports, concussions and head injuries can occur at any age or skill level. To provide effective treatment, doctors must understand how age and concussion interact. Van Keuren-Jensen says it remains unknown whether concussions in children lead to changes in brain development. There is some evidence elderly subjects may take longer to recover.

Long-term effects

Most individuals return to normal fairly quickly after their concussions. However, Van Keuren-Jensen reports 10 percent to 20 percent of patients can have a prolonged recovery period with post-concussion syndrome. These individuals may feel head injury symptoms for many months.


Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the injury and the severity of symptoms the patient experiences. Typically, individuals are asked to rest, shorten the time at school and reduce activities like video games and watching TV. Van Keuren-Jensen explains, “There is debate about whether and to what extent these activities should be minimized or eliminated during the recovery — until all symptoms have resolved. Activities typically increase again as symptoms disappear.”

Finding solutions

Each person experiences a concussion differently and recovers at a different rate.

“We are working on better ways to diagnose when a person has had a head injury, and when that injury has resolved and the individual is cleared for returning to regular activities,” Van Keuren-Jensen said. The TGen study is looking at RNA molecules in blood, urine or saliva to find objective, nonbiased ways to assess the injury and recovery process.

The TGen study is looking at RNA molecules in blood, urine or saliva to find objective, nonbiased ways to assess the injury and recovery process.

Sports Illustrated recently released an in-depth series about how head injuries are changing football and influencing the future of the sport. “The clarion call is out: The game must be made safer, continually, if parents are to send their kids to play years into the future,” writes Peter King.

Other local research and education about brain injuries is being carried out by the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the Arizona Cardinals, the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona, AT Still University and ASU.

The organizations have united to address mild traumatic brain injury (concussion) in student-athletes throughout the state. School athletic trainers who wish to participate can request access to the Barrow Concussion Network by emailing concussionregistry@dignityhealth.org.

With help from research by TGen and other institutions, there is reason to believe athletes of all ages and skill levels will have better protection against head injuries in the future and better treatments when injuries occur.

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org. Follow TGen on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @TGen.


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The truth about sports concussions